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Tempting Auzed: Chapter 6

“I can’t believe it!” Alejandra squatted up and down, then stretched side to side, testing her newly healed body. The doctor had fixed all her maladies inside and out, some she didn’t even know she’d had, then had offered her something called the elixir. From what she’d grasped, it would give her an almost superhuman boost, adding decades to her life span.

Memories of her family had flashed through her mind, and on instinct she’d refused. Not until she knew for sure she couldn’t get back to them. If returning were somehow possible, she couldn’t bear to outlive them. Outliving her parents had been bad enough.

“Would you stop that?” Zed snapped in a hiss as she bent to touch her toes.

Alex rolled her eyes but did stop. Relli guided them to a floating board with a handlebar sticking up through the middle. Zed stepped onto it and waited for Alex to do the same, but she hesitated. “Maybe you could cuff me to this one too.” She laughed, half serious. It was a long fall, and an irrational idea that her fingers might suddenly lose grip strength midflight kept popping into her mind.

Relli tilted her head toward them, already aboard her own platform, which was visibly without a bar. Instead, the three prongs of her tail were curled around one edge of the board, keeping her steady. Handles must be reserved for the tailless.

Not a care in the world, Wilson spread her arms and glided toward an empty platform, then, in a flashy display, jumped and glided from Relli’s board back to the empty one as if to say, See? It’s safe. Wilson settled herself on Relli’s board and gazed at Alex expectantly.

She pursed her lips. Show-off.

“It’s odd that you would marry a male you don’t trust to keep you safe,” Relli remarked, raising her brow toward Auzed.

There was something in her gaze, something Alex had seen during her interrogation—Relli had surmised the truth. She’d known Alex was lying about everything but had chosen to help her for some reason. Even now, her comment felt more like veiled advice than a random observation.

Auzed clearly hadn’t realized the same, for in an instant he’d pulled Alex onto the board. She gripped the handlebar the way her childhood cat had clung to her clothing every time she’d threatened to give her a bath. To her relief, Auzed moved behind her, placing his hands on either side of hers on the handlebar and closing her in. No part of him touched her, yet his large body surrounding her made her feel protected all the same. The size of his hands gave her an odd little flutter in her belly. She tried to ignore the saying popping into her head about men with big hands.

Relli nodded and rode her platform ahead gracefully. When their platform began to move forward, Alex all but plastered her back against Auzed’s chest. She felt his quick intake of breath and saw his knuckles whiten on the handlebar, but she refused to pull herself away. It wasn’t her fault she’d never flown through the air on an inch-thick disk like the Silver Surfer. She could barely ride a longboard, and those were supposed to be easy to use.

“Even if you fall, there’s invisible netting to catch you,” Auzed rumbled from above her.

“Netting?” On instinct, Alex peered down before the word invisible registered. “I guess the population would hardly be this large if there weren’t.” She chuckled through the feeling of idiocy. Of course there was a net. It didn’t make sense there wouldn’t be.

His intention in pointing out the net becoming clear, Auzed said, “Now you may step forward. It’s uncommon to see a female pressing herself against a male out in public.”

She felt heat rise on her cheeks, and a twinge of defensiveness creeped into her voice. “We’re getting married, though, honey,” she said, stepping forward and instantly missing the warmth of his big body.

“Stop guessing at things you have no idea about,” he growled low into her ear. Despite the annoyed tone of his voice, his hot breath made a shiver run through her. “The fact that we’re planning to wed would make it even more unlikely you’d be touching me like this.”

“What? Why?”

“You’d want me to prove myself to you during the Testing and then in the subsequent marriage. You’d only touch me otherwise if we were having casual relations, and even then, it would be very strange for you to do it in public.”

Alex sorted through that explanation and tried to understand. Testing? Prove himself? Out of her depth, that’s what she was. Woefully so. As soon as she got the big man alone, she’d need to learn everything she could. That was, if she wasn’t able to talk to Lily first.

Their board descended to a teardrop-shaped home hanging in midair. To her left, the next nearest hanging home was much farther away than it had looked a minute ago. There’d be no way of leaving this house without one of these boards, not unless they wanted to take their chances with the net below.

Relli, Alex, and Auzed stepped onto the balcony that divided the oddly shaped house in two. Wilson bolted for the roof. Off to do some exploring of her own again.

“The nest is equipped with all the standard necessities. You’re lucky there was one available. Most are occupied by visitors this week. They love to watch our games.” Relli halted near the entrance to the home. “Have you ever been to the Sauven games before?” she asked Auzed.

“A few times with my family. They’re enjoyable. Though I preferred exploring Sauven under different circumstances.”

Relli nodded and shot him a look of sympathy. “If you need anything…I was going to say call, but you can’t, can you? I guess just wait until someone comes and tell them what you need.”

“Well, since you asked,” Alex interrupted hastily, awareness of her stiff clothing and dirt-caked body seeping in, “I could use some clean clothes.”

“Of course!” Relli replied. “The regents already put in an order for some basic things. But I’ll need your measurements before I can order anything else.” Her green cheeks flushed navy with embarrassment, and she added, “I’m sorry Huten didn’t clean you. He really should have.”

Alex recalled the odd sense of urgency she’d felt while being healed by their doctor, Huten. He’d kept darting uncomfortable glances at Relli until they’d finally left. After he’d put Alex in that medical tube and healed all sorts of old injuries lingering in her body, he’d practically shoved them out the door. She hadn’t even known a shower was possible there. Although it made no sense to shower if she had nothing clean to change into anyway.

Auzed stepped forward, finally gracing the conversation with his input. His words held an undercurrent of outrage as he addressed Relli. “It’s unthinkable that you’re treated this way by these males. Why have they not shown you your due respect?”

Rather than looking consoled or relaxing at his soft words, Relli only appeared more uncomfortable. Her beautiful yet tired gray eyes strayed to the ground, and the tips of her tail flicked in agitation. “I… I’m… I have extended my marriage for over three years now.”

“You’re a demskiv?” Auzed blurted.

Relli flinched at the name but nodded.

The two aliens before her remained silent. Auzed, who’d just a moment ago seemed ready to joust for Relli’s honor, now darted conflicted glances toward her while clasping his hands stiffly behind his back.

“Anyone want to fill me in?” Alex tried, her curiosity getting the better of her.

Almost too quickly, Auzed said, “We’ll talk about it later.” The urgent lift of his brows made it clear he felt the explanation would mess with their lie. Alex was about to brush off the look and reveal that Relli already knew they’d lied but then thought better of it. Holding her tongue, she walked over to the tall, emerald-green woman and smiled. “Well, I don’t care what you are or what you do in your personal time. Thank you for helping us out today.”

Relli raised her head and gave Alex a grateful smile that all at once turned conspiratorial. With a twitch of her lips, she bent down and whispered, “I’ve never liked Fierad anyway, and if what they say about humans is true, I know I’d want at least one human friend.”

And there was her confirmation. Relli had been helping them, and as long as Alex lived, she’d be grateful. She moved to clasp the woman’s hands but then recalled what Auzed had said about touching and pulled them back. “You have one.”

With a swift tail-to-forehead farewell, Relli stepped onto her board and gracefully flew away.

Her and Auzed’s eyes met before his gaze traveled down her body. For a second she thought it might’ve been a perusal of interest, but then she recalled how disgusting she must look. She forced her shoulders to remain back to avoid hunching over in mortification. “Just you and me now, Auzzy.” She put a heaping tablespoon’s worth of sugar and cheer into her voice, a weak attempt to belay the talking to she figured she was about to get.

“Au-zed,” was all he said.

“Just thought that since we’re now…well, whatever we are, maybe a nickname was in the cards. You can call me Alex, by the way.”

“Coconspirators. That is what we are now, unless you plan on following through with your lie and marrying me.”

The tone of his voice indicated he knew full well she had no such plans, but she found herself denying it anyway. “No, I have a boyfriend back home, so it probably wouldn’t be right.” That wasn’t really the truth. Things with Ray had been going downhill fast, and after caving to his most recent ultimatum—to give him a key to her apartment or break up—she’d decided she needed to dump him. She’d planned it all out too. A few final days together after he got back from his work trip, then she’d gently let him down. Before she’d had the chance, though, an alien had barged into her apartment and knocked her out.

Without a word, Auzed turned and prowled into the apartment as if expecting an ambush. Alex followed. The large room inside took up the whole floor of the house. Pillars decorated to look like trees, or maybe actual trees, held up the open room. Ornately carved tables and chairs were grouped throughout, providing a few different dining and sitting areas. The ornamentation was structured with harsh angles, but the gentle curves and cloudlike cushioning of the furniture softened it and made it appear artistic.

A seemingly haphazard collection of inlaid cabinets climbed up the far wall like a massive trailing vine. Auzed walked over and opened a few of the cabinets, searching for something. Finding what he was looking for, he produced a couple of glasses. Alex watched as he crossed to a golden bird-shaped faucet, its wings expanded over a hollowed-out stone basin.

When clear water flowed from the bird’s long, pointed beak and into the two cups, she licked her lips. Thirsty—she’d just recalled how utterly thirsty she was, and hungry too.

Auzed offered her the glass, and she gulped the cool liquid down with one satisfying, painful swallow. Rushing to the sink, she filled and refilled the glass until her stomach was too full to hold anymore.

She panted and wiped a hand over her mouth then turned toward Auzed, who was staring at her and sipping his water. “How do they get water to this place?”

“Rain and condensation collect on the chain above us and falls into storage and treatment areas under our feet.” His tone was to the point and emotionless. He continued to stare.

“What do we do now?”

“We wait.”

“For?” This guy might look like a god, but he had the personality of a sea urchin.

Instead of answering her, he asked a question of his own. “How did you do that before?”

“You’ll have to be more specific. I do a lot of things.”

The skin around his eyes tightened with his frown. “During the questioning. How did you fool them?”

“Oh, that!” Alex spun in a circle and surveyed the lit ceiling. “You had such little faith in me, and look. I did it on my first try!” Alex had no idea how she’d done it, to be honest, but she acted smug all the same.

“How?” he grated again.

“I don’t know, Auzzy.” She sighed as she began searching through the multitude of cabinets. “I felt it and turned it down.”

Auzed stepped toward her. “Turned it down?”

“Yeah. Turned it down. Said no. Pushed it back. Gave it the old one-two punch. Whatever you want to call it. I just didn’t let it work. Don’t know how else to say it.”

“But what about after? How did you fool them into thinking you were being swayed?” Auzed urged.

Alex knew she shouldn’t be so happy about lying to the alien police, but knowing she’d impressed the super-impressive, ridiculously hot guy in front of her made her shoulders straighten.

“Puh-lease. I was in all the school plays when I was younger and then I went to an arts college for my film studies degree. I can act. You told me I had to repeat, so I just mixed Dracula and The Manchurian Candidate and threw in a little Jasmine for good measure. I always thought Jafar was an underappreciated villain. I mean, that sultan just sat on his ass all day and let his people starve, you know?” She caught Auzed’s blank stare and grumbled, “Right. Right. You have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m gonna have to work on that. Probably half of everything I say is a movie reference.”

“A Swadaeth knows when their sway has been broken. How did you fool Relli?” Auzed stepped in front of her as she rooted through another cabinet, demanding her full attention.

“Can we eat this?” she asked, holding up a large fuzzy yellow oval.

Like lightning, Auzed snatched it from her hand and stared at her hard.

“You men! You’re all the same no matter the planet. None of you ever really pay attention to the women in a room, do you? While you and Officer Douchebag were having a glare-off, Relli figured out I’d broken out of my trance. Everything on her face said so; you guys just didn’t notice.” At Auzed’s confused expression, Alex clarified, “She figured it out and helped us. She knows I lied.”

Understanding dawned, his eyes widening. Then he dragged a large hand through his light-blond hair. “That’s not good. Another person knows. A demskiv knows.”

“Yeah, what is a demskiv anyway?” Alex asked, sniffing at a bottle of thick brown liquid. Spice and acidity burned her nostrils, and she quickly stuffed the cork back in.

Auzed paced around the room, scrubbing his hand against his chin in thought. “Uh, it’s a female who’s chosen not to choose a new husband. She just keeps extending her contract with one male.”

“And that’s a bad thing?” What the hell was he talking about? He’d told her about temporary marriages very briefly, but now he was making it seem like being in a permanent relationship would be looked down on here. Her mother would be rolling over in her grave at the very idea.

“Yes. By remaining with one male she’s not mated to, she’s deprived all of the other husbands she may have had. At the very least, she’s made it so there are even more males who will never have the opportunity to prove themselves as excellent husbands and fathers.”

“You’ve succeeded in confusing me.”

His eyes strayed toward her as though he just remembered she was there. He scanned her one more time, then sighed. “Go bathe. I’ll make us some food while you do. Then I’ll try to explain everything.”

“Can’t we eat first?” Alex just held back the desperate whine in her voice. “I’m starving…like, literally, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Using those powerful thighs, he crossed to the kitchen and started rummaging through the cabinets again. He tossed her a vine with berries tumbling off the sides. “Here, eat this while you bathe. You may have gotten used to your smell, but I haven’t.”

Her palms clenched in embarrassment, and she accidentally smashed a small berry in her hand. God, she must smell. Out in the woods for weeks? She was surprised he’d gone this long without mentioning it.

Nipping the pea-sized, sweet berries off the vine, she scanned the room. There wasn’t a door, room, or toilet to be seen. “I’m gonna need a little assistance with the bathing thing. Should I use the sink?”

Auzed glanced over his shoulder at her and swung his own eyes around the room. Seeming to gather his patience, he crossed to an empty area of the room and motioned for her to join him. Now that she looked closely, the floor where they were standing was not a round wooden inlay like she’d thought but a segment of floor.

With a forceful “Up!” from Auzed, the portion of floor floated upward and through a now-empty circle of ceiling above them until they were in the hallway of another floor, one door on the right and one on the left.

He walked ahead, peering into both rooms, while Alex discreetly gobbled the rest of the berries. They sat like grains of rice in the gaping chasm that was her empty stomach.

“Through here. This is your room,” Auzed said, motioning through one door.

Alex glanced at the other as she passed and saw a small-yet-comfortable bedroom.

This other room was also a bedroom, except this one was huge in comparison. And lavishly decorated with feathers and furs. He’d given her the better room. She quelled a smile at the thought.

A deviant voice in her head mourned the fact that they wouldn’t be forced to share a bed. She moved past him and saw his eyes lingering on the over-large mattress floating a few feet off the ground. Was he thinking the same thing?

“Do I need to show you how to use the foam shower?”

The berries instantly soured in her stomach. She peered to the ground, trying to play off her next words as if they were nothing. It wouldn’t do to dwell. “No, they had one in the…uh, the bunker.”

All at once, Auzed’s stiff posture stiffened even more. His lips going thin and his feet spreading ever so slightly as if bracing for an earthquake. His Adam’s apple bobbed with his swallow, but all he said was, “Makes sense.”

She lifted a brow at him. More confused than annoyed by his uncaring tone. It was clear he felt something but liked to keep everything to himself. You’re a hard nut to crack, Auzzy.

She backed into the bedroom through the door, openly analyzing him until he finally glanced around the hall as though uncomfortable with her studious gaze, and walked away.


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