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Tempting Auzed: Chapter 7

Within minutes Zed had used the foam shower in his room’s bathroom to clean off, then returned to the lower level of the nest home and began preparing a meal with ingredients from the modestly stocked cabinets. His preparation was clumsy, sloppy even, and he felt a rush of annoyance that he hadn’t occasionally practiced the skills he’d learned during his husbandry school cooking classes. He never cooked for himself at home, preferring the efficiency of ready-made meal bars. And as the head guard for the Pearl Temple, he was exempt from marriage, so practicing the skill had always seemed pointless.

What would happen now? Would he have to abandon his high-ranking position? No, he thought with a flicker of irritation. Alejandra had made it clear she wouldn’t be marrying him for real. It was just an act. Once they were back in Tremanta, he’d bring her to the Temple and resume life as normal, leaving this blunder in the past and praying he never had to visit Sauven again.

As he roughly chopped a handful of thematun leaves, he considered his current predicament. The little female had fooled a room of well-trained males, including him. Her jab at his obliviousness to Relli’s assistance had been…enlightening. Auzed didn’t miss things.

Normally he didn’t miss things. But normally he didn’t have an intriguing human running about telling lies and threatening everything he’d worked so hard to achieve in his life. Like it or not, he was now tied to Alejandra, responsible for both her and her impulsive reactions.

Auzed’s knife scored the wood surface underneath as he sliced the meat with a bit too much ferocity. Running away from the rest of the females at the facility…impulsive. Lying to a Sauvenian official…impulsive. His mind wandered back to the brief kiss she’d given him, and his movements stilled. That kiss had been impulsive too. For a moment, his mind and body battled with each other, trying to decide whether or not he should lump that kiss in with the other things he wished she hadn’t done, but he couldn’t seem to be as upset about the brief brush of her lips to his as he should’ve been.

Collecting his ingredients, he moved to the cooking table and activated it. He then sat and waited for the surface to heat up. Gnawing on a raw thematun leaf, he thought through his options and grimaced. There was nothing he could do at the moment. Not until the regents made up their minds as to what they would do. If he was very lucky, they might decide he and Alejandra were cleared of charges and send them on their way. But that was the best-case scenario. Worst case? He didn’t want to think about it. All there was was to wait.

“Down,” he heard Alejandra call from the floor above. When the through-level platform didn’t respond, she said, “Down!” more clearly.

Zed stared up at the ceiling and smirked. Under his breath, he muttered, “It doesn’t respond to your language yet.”


Leaning back in his chair, he crossed his arms over his chest and stretched his legs out in front of him. He chewed on another bittersweet leaf. “Have you tried commanding the platform to go down?” he called. His grin widened as she let a string of foreign curses loose.

“Down! Down! Down!”

Suddenly, the tuey she called Wilson barreled inside. It clambered up a post and stared at the spot on the ceiling where Alejandra was currently stomping. The creature leveled Zed with a glare and glided over to him. She squeaked and trumpeted, rolling around his chair and bopping his shin with her small trunk until he rose with a grumble.

Zed walked within the command area and said, “Down.”

It was childish—and not at all in line with his usual behavior—but the look of sour annoyance shining in Alejandra’s narrowed eyes as she lowered to the ground almost helped to make up for the rotten position in which he currently found himself. Wilson, satisfied her favorite human was no longer in distress, rolled to a low-cushioned chair and relaxed onto it.

He took in Alejandra’s newly revealed appearance and clenched his teeth. Fuck. She’s gorgeous. Her large brown eyes were deep-set and framed by thick lashes. Her lips, a lighter shade of brown than her skin with just a touch of pink near the center, were full and seemed far too soft.

Thick, dark-brown hair fell over one bare shoulder, curling into waves. She’d wrapped herself in some kind of large piece of fabric. A blanket or other form of bedding, likely. The odd ensemble left the silken skin of her shoulders bare.

He felt the urge to stand up straighter and give her a practiced litany of compliments as he would to a Clecanian female he found attractive. Instead, he coolly asked, “What are you wearing?”

The slightest hint of rusty red darkened her cheeks. “It was the only clean piece of fabric up there. I think it’s a sheet. Or maybe a towel. I really don’t know. I found it in the bathroom.”

Her gaze darted toward the cooking table, where pieces of meat sizzled happily on the shared surface. As though pulled by an unknown force, she floated over to the table and sat down, eyes riveted to the meat.

“Can I eat it?”

“Give it more time.” Zed dropped into the seat across from her.

Alejandra swiped her tongue over her bottom lip, then leaned back. Zed shifted in his seat, suddenly uncomfortable. He was around females often, no question. But it was rare he was ever alone with a female who openly touched him and who’d claimed she’d be marrying him. Even though it’d been a lie, the uttered words had still done something to him, no matter how much he denied it. Now, sitting across from that female, alone, in a house, feeding her…it wasn’t something he was used to, and it felt altogether too intimate.

“I don’t even know what I should be asking about, so can you just explain what you think I should know?” she asked, barely tearing her gaze away from the cooking meat.

Her attention caught on his shirt and crossed arms before fixing on his biceps. He’d removed his top shirt, now wearing the thin protective barrier most guards and soldiers wore as a base layer. The strong, silky fabric wouldn’t stop a Yulo blast or a knife, but it would slow down the momentum enough where he might not die from the injury.

Her gaze remained caught on his upper arms. On instinct he tensed, flexing the muscle for a more impressive display. Heat rose on his neck at the immature response. But then a different kind of hunger briefly lit in her eyes, and his embarrassment vanished.

“Let’s start with you,” he said, turning the conversation back toward her and the decisions she’d made to put them in this position. “Why did you run into the forest in the first place?”

Unperturbed, she tilted her head and continued to study his body appreciatively. He shifted in his seat. “What else should I have done? The only aliens we’d met had either snatched us from Earth or locked us in cages. Why would we wait around for more? How were we to know good ones existed at all?”

A frustratingly logical response if he’d ever heard one. “And how did you survive?” He used a small wooden spear to poke one of the pieces of meat and held it out to her.

She snatched the spear from him and shoved the morsel into her mouth. The too-hot piece of meat made her breathe in and out through an open mouth for a few moments.

Markedly too late, he drawled, “Be careful. It’s hot.”

Covering her open mouth with her hand, she lifted a sardonic brow at him and chuckled. When she was finally able to swallow, she sighed. “Yup. I never wait long enough. Been a problem since I was little. Uh, anyway…” She held the next piece of meat out a bit longer, learning from her mistake. “The girl I was with, Lily—who I need to talk to, by the way—was a crazy survivalist woman. She found us food and shelter and made fire. Just a magnificent example of a she-ro. But my dumb ass got us into trouble, of course. We fell into the river and got separated.”

It suddenly occurred to Zed that he hadn’t yet seen her ass, but if it fit with the rest of her body, it would be far from dumb.

She swallowed another bite and pointed her eating spear at him. “Okay, now you. Why was I brought here? What did those guys want with us? Why did they lock us up? What is this whole marriage thing about? Why is everyone so intense about me and where I should live? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”

She said the last in that way she did when she was quoting the things she called movies.

“Just keep talking so I can eat and listen. That doc found a whole host of bad juju in my gut from the water I drank. Luckily, he fixed it all, but I’m somehow even more starving than I was when I was literally starving.”

Zed recited the explanation he’d heard the Queen give to the confused and unsure females who’d arrived at the Temple. “Clecania is a planet that, along with many others, belongs to The Intergalactic Alliance. This alliance has laws prohibiting communication with underdeveloped Class 4 planets. Earth is considered a Class 4 planet. As such, there is no possibility that humans can be returned home. The law requires you to stay on Clecania for a period of one year, after which you may leave and visit any Class 3 or higher planet.”

“We aren’t allowed to go home?” Alejandra said through a mouthful of the grilled thematun leaves. Her eyes were round and entirely focused on him, an unspoken plea for him to deny the fact clear in their depths.

“I’m afraid not,” was all he could think to say.

 This was always the sticking point. Not just with humans but with the few other Class 4 beings he’d encountered. And shouldn’t it be? The poor individuals had not only been thrust into a universe they’d never known existed but they also now had to grapple with the idea that they’d never return home. Never see their loved ones again.

The Traxian side of Auzed surged with a roar. The Insurgents—or PRIC, as they were known—deserved to be ripped limb from limb, even if they had somehow managed to find their people’s salvation.

He wished he could explain to her that the cretin who’d taken her had been slaughtered or remained in prison, but as a female, he assumed she wouldn’t like hearing it. So, as she slowly lowered the piece of meat dangling on her spear, he continued with his professional explanation.

“Our planet has a disproportionate number of females to males, and our fertility has steadily declined since a virus wiped out most of our female population centuries ago and also damaged our ability to recognize a mate. All the cities across the planet have developed their own way of dealing with the issue. Most have decided that the burden of repopulation falls to the females; therefore, most straight females capable of carrying children are encouraged to marry various worthy males and try for offspring. To give the overabundance of males an opportunity for a wife and for children, marriages are usually short, and we are urged not to become too attached to any wife or husband. Only the most accomplished of males are chosen.

“Unknown to the leaders of Clecania, or so we believe, an underground group of Clecanians known as the Insurgents began abducting and experimenting with species from other planets, hoping to find a cure to our fertility issues. They found that cure in humans. Humans can call forth mating marks on our people and can also successfully give birth to Clecanian offspring.” Auzed stopped there, although there was so much more to explain, more than he could even imagine.

Her dark brows drew together, and she studied him while she thought. “Shouldn’t you be happy about them thinking we’re engaged, then?”

“Of all the…” Zed stopped the shout rising in his throat. “That’s your first thought after all that?”

She shrugged again, a little more sharply than before, and adjusted the knot near her shoulder holding her ensemble together. “No. Obviously that was not my first thought, Auzzy. But I’m trying to keep it together and figure out what I need to know in order to get back to the other city, since you said I’d have more freedom there. My first thought was, What in the holy shit balls have I been dropped into? but that didn’t seem like a helpful thought to bring up.”

Auzed narrowed his eyes on her, but before he could think of a retort, she spoke again.

“I asked because if it’s an honor to be picked, as you’ve implied, then why would you be walking around looking at me like I just stole your favorite teddy bear? If this is gonna work, you’re going to need to act appropriately, and I’m just trying to figure out what ‘appropriate’ is on this planet. How would a man just picked for marriage act toward his future wife?”

Her flippant tone and the logic to her words grated. “I wouldn’t have to act at all if you hadn’t lied. You don’t even understand the position you’ve put me in or what’s at stake for me.”

Throwing down her utensil, she rose; the usual mask of nonchalance she’d worn throughout this endeavor faded, and he could see anger, fear, and pain all playing across her features. “No. I don’t know what’s at stake for you. But let me ask you this—have you been torn away from your friends and family and everything you’ve ever known? Are you in danger of being forcibly married off to some stranger and never seeing anyone you care about ever again? Because those are the stakes for me—”

A chime from the ceiling told them they had a visitor.

“What’s that?” she asked, studying the ceiling.

He was still fuming. Just because she was right didn’t make him any less upset. “Someone’s here. Maybe the regents. Maybe someone delivering clothing for you. I don’t know.”

Alejandra raised her brow pointedly. “So, what it’ll be, Auzzy? You gonna tell me how to act, or should I go on guessing?”

His body tensed as he thought, but she was correct. If they were going to do this, they needed to do it right. The chime rang again. “Fine,” he said with a growl, “you need to be more aloof. You don’t compliment me; I should be complimenting you, trying to win your favor. Don’t smile at other males. Don’t smile at me. Don’t be too friendly with other males either—it’ll suggest you’re not entirely happy with our arrangement.”

He moved to the door of the home as he spoke. Alejandra’s brows were scrunched in confusion, yet she nodded along.

Auzed clasped the handle of the door and took a deep breath. Here we go.


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