Tempting Auzed: Chapter 8

The small bit of hope that Relli was the one visiting sputtered out as an unfamiliar man walked into the house. Alex tried to think through what Auzed had told her and donned the bland-yet-polite expression she used whenever her boss’s assistant, George, tried to micromanage as if he were her boss. Don’t be nice. Don’t smile.

She settled herself next to Wilson on a large chair by the window and peered out, trying to seem uninterested as Auzed greeted the man. Her ears perked when she heard the guy say, “I was instructed to let you use this communicator.”

Attempting to reel in her enthusiasm as much as she could, she all but ran over to the pair. “Could you connect me with Lily?”

The Sauvenian man grinned and shifted fractionally closer, an eagerness to interact with her clear in his eyes. His tail swayed behind him as he said, “Hello, human. My name is Noito. Who is Lily? I’d be happy to assist you.”

Her voice faltered as she took in the intensity of his stare. He was searching her face, a small wrinkle between his brows as if he were waiting for something other than her response. When he tilted his head toward her and sniffed, Auzed stepped closer; a low rumble pulsed in his throat. The man’s smile twitched.

“Uh, she’s—” Alex broke off when Auzed placed his large palm on her lower back.

“I will assist my future wife, Noito. You may wait outside.”

Noito frowned at Auzed, his polite smile gone. “I was directed to monitor the call. The regents have asked that you contact them first. I’ll wait here with…” He swept his charming smile back to Alex and held a narrow black rectangle out to Auzed.

“You may wait here alone,” Auzed snapped before she could answer. “And I’ll call my Queen first and then the regents.” He swiped the object she assumed was the alien version of a phone from the man’s hand and pressed against her back until she turned and followed him a few steps away.

The man kept his eyes glued to Alex while he dropped the large sack he’d been carrying. She tilted her head as he tore his gaze away to examine the front and back of his hands. Appearing to not find what he was looking for, he lowered them back to his sides.

“He’s being really intense,” she whispered while Auzed fiddled with the device.

He eyed the man. “He’s trying to recognize you as his mate. Hoping that if he sticks close enough, his marks will come out.”

Alex was about to list off the many questions she now had, but he held the small device up to his ear, and she slammed her mouth shut. Mate? This wasn’t the first time he’d said that.

“This is Head Guard Auzed,” he said into the device.

Alex kept her eyes on a spot in the kitchen and tried to ignore the sensation of Noito’s stare on her. She didn’t mind being checked out, but this guy wasn’t ogling her ass or chest. He was looking at her like this because she was human and different and he wanted her to be his in a way that seemed very permanent, though they’d only just met. He didn’t even know her name. It was unsettling.

Seeming to sense her unease, Auzed stepped between her and Noito, turning his impressively wide back to the man and blocking his view. “Hello, my Queen. Have you been apprised of the situation here?” His words were slow and careful, and she could tell he was trying to communicate without really communicating.

Alex studied him as he carried on his conversation, answering with single yesses and nos.

He was standing firmly again. Not stiff, as if he were angry or tense, but strong, unbending, solid. Like there wasn’t a power on this planet that could move him unless he allowed it. Control radiated from every corded muscle. Alex couldn’t decide how she felt about it.

On the one hand, he made her feel safe. He’d directed his considerable strength toward protecting her, after all. But she wondered whether he was solid and stony through and through. What would it take to get him to crack? To smile or laugh?

His mossy-green eyes fell on hers, and she had the feeling the Queen was talking about her on the other end. He searched her face as he listened, then his gaze lingered on her mouth. A fleeting hint of warmth lit his eyes.

Her stomach did a little flip, and a wave of heat prickled up her neck. Peering over to where Wilson sat curled up and darting glares between the two men, she noticed Noito had moved. He’d inched far enough to his left so that he could see her again.

Be aloof? I wonder if direct would work too.

Without waiting for permission, she drew herself up fully, looked directly into Noito’s eyes, and said, “Your staring is making me uncomfortable. Stop.”

Her abrupt matter-of-fact tone registered like a slap, and he lowered his gaze; dark green tinged his cheeks and forehead.

When she looked back to Auzed, he was peering down at her, his mouth twisted into something that seemed like approval. Not exactly a smile or a frown, but still, he seemed to like that she’d taken charge.

After a couple more yesses and nos along with a “Lily, ma’am” and an “I’ll do my best,” he paused. Whatever the Queen said next had his stare turning furious. He shot another glance at her and then stomped away. “But isn’t there a way… No, she… I understand.” He lowered the communicator and stood staring at the wall for a moment. Whatever he’d just been told had not been good. She could practically see the livid heat rising off his body. Without turning or saying a word, he slid his fingers across the communicator and held it back up to his ear. “This is Auzed. I was told you requested I call.”

There was a wince threatening to form on her face at the restrained anger in his voice as he carried on another conversation. She tried to follow, but he was so tight-lipped that it became impossible.

Her attention drifted to Noito. He’d been staring at her again but quickly dropped his gaze when he saw her looking. Should she ask him questions? Would he know anything about what the regents had decided?

She jumped when she turned back to find Auzed only a few feet away, glaring at the ground and holding the communicator out to her. Tentatively she took it. “He-hello?”

“This is Queen Dasa. King Bet and I have come to a decision concerning you and Auzed. He has already agreed to our terms. I just need you to agree as well.”

Alex’s stomach felt overfull all of a sudden. “Okay.”

“We will raise no charges against Auzed for entering our territory or killing the sefa, but in return, we’d like you and him to stay in Sauven for a week. In that time, you’ll be allowed to move around freely. After the week is out, you may return to Tremanta.”

“Okay.” She said it slower this time, holding her breath against the inevitable but.

There was a moment of silence before the queen spoke again. “I’m sure you can see the position we’re in. There’s no real way for us to corroborate your story, but there’s no way to disprove it either. We ask that since you are not mated to Auzed, you allow the people of our city to speak with you while you’re here.”

“To just speak with me?” There had to be something she was missing.

“Well…if you’re recognized, we would, of course, expect you to remain here with your mate. We feel it is our obligation to give our people the opportunity to at least attempt to recognize you before you leave. Tremanta has so many humans already, after all.” She could hear the tinge of disdain in Queen Dasa’s voice as she said this.

“And what if I refuse?”

It was the king who spoke next. “Then Auzed will be considered a convict, and although we will not be pushing to detain him, he will be stripped of his title and deemed unfit for any future marriages or children.”

“Ah.” She chanced a glance at Auzed and found him glaring at Noito as if the poor guy had had anything to do with this. How could she deny the simple and seemingly reasonable requests of the regents if Auzed’s whole future was on the line? “I guess I accept, then.”

“Wonderful. We’ll send a messenger tomorrow with details.”

“Could… Hello?” Alex lowered the communicator and grumbled, “I guess goodbye isn’t a thing here.” She stared at Auzed’s unmoving frame. Both she and Noito seemed to grasp how furious Auzed was and remained lost for words. “Uh,” she finally mumbled, “do you think I could call Lily now?”

Like a shot, Auzed was crossing to her. She took an instinctive step back, but he only snatched the communicator away and then stalked toward Noito who, to his credit, remained still. “The Queen explained to me that Lily is not available at the moment. She will be alerted that you wish to speak to her and will contact you at her earliest convenience,” he explained as he gestured toward the door, making it clear he wanted Noito gone.

The man stepped backward while pointing to the bag. “These are clothes and other things. Please let me know if you need something else or if the clothing isn’t to your liking. I’d be honored to—”

“She will tell me if she needs anything else. Don’t make me say it again.” Auzed crowded Noito. His words, filled with authority, boomed in the small space. He’d said he was a guard, but he sounded more like a soldier.

Noito shot her one last look before leaving. Auzed watched him go with his feet spread and his large hands on his hips.

The deafening silence fell again. Alex was beyond uncomfortable. Every move of her body felt shaky and awkward the way it did whenever she was about to ride the Goliath at Magic Mountain. “Jeez, Auzzy, no need to scare the poor boy.” As he spun toward her, she instantly knew her default of humor was not winning her any favors at the moment.

“Au-zed. And yes, there was. You as good as told him you had no interest, and he persisted…in front of me. It’s an insult to both of us, yet he pushed again. He’s lucky I didn’t pummel him.”

She made her way toward the kitchen and pulled out a few bottles she’d seen before. “I don’t know about you, but I could use a drink.” She sniffed at the contents of a few as he stood silently brooding across the room. “Which one of these is sweet, and which one will get me drunk?” she asked, pointing to the bottles strewn across the counter.

He clenched and unclenched his fists, staring at her for a few moments. “Aren’t you going to ask me what the Queen said?”

“I thought maybe I’d give you some time to cool down first.” She gave him a tentative smile she was sure looked awkward as hell. “But I can guess—stick to the lie and try not to get caught?”

Auzed’s brows drew together, and his gaze briefly darted around and then back as though he couldn’t make heads or tails of her. “Yes. How did you know?”

Alex shrugged. “’Cause we’re still here and you’re still upset.”

“I might lose my job. They know we’re lying but can’t prove it. They’re bitter toward her for giving the humans shelter, and they’ll use me to make their disapproval known. My Queen believes they’re going to try to circumvent the laws so they can sway me. I can’t shake it off like you. Do you know what will happen if they sway me?”

She couldn’t think about that. It was too much. This was all too much for her right now. Sensing her agitation, Wilson followed her into the kitchen.

“Even if they end up not questioning me, they’ll check every detail of my story. Investigate as much as they can. There are loose ends, Alejandra. Witnesses who know I wasn’t in that area of the forest.” He stepped toward her and boomed, “Why don’t you care?”

Her heart was pulsing in her ears now. She barely managed to catch a bottle as it slipped out of her sweaty palms. “I do care, but… ‘a lo hecho, pecho.’” Alex shrugged it off, but merely uttering the saying out loud made a spike of pain stab through her heart. She’d never go home. Never listen to her abuela rattle off the phrase again.

Auzed stared at her, his eyes a little wild. “What?”

She could tell he was holding his temper at bay…just. If she were smart, she’d get serious, sit down, and hash this out so he could get it off his chest and they could commiserate over their shitty circumstances, but fuck it. She was angry too. And scared. And sad. And a million other things, and the way she needed to deal with her emotions right now was to pretend like they didn’t exist. Panic was swelling inside her already, along with bitter guilt and helplessness. She’d lied to save him.

Didn’t he see that? If they’d told the truth, he would’ve been punished all the same, wouldn’t he? And she’d be hitching her wagon to some random alien. He was just upset, rightfully so, but she didn’t want to go in circles arguing with him right now. It wasn’t like there was anything they could do about it anyway.

He closed his eyes and tilted his head toward the ceiling. When he regained his composure, he looked back at her. “What about a chest?”

She paused sniffing at the contents of each bottle. Had he understood her? “¿Hablas español?”

Auzed blinked at her. “If you’re speaking another language, I can’t tell. My translator translates all Earth languages the same.”

“Oh! That makes sense. To be honest, I don’t speak much Spanish myself. My abuela does, but my parents…” she rambled, feigning interest in a dark-pink bottle, and swallowed the lump forming in her throat. “Um, my parents were second-generation Mexican American and spoke mostly English at home.”

Alex nodded and took a sip of the liquid, then made a face as the bitter substance similar to vinegar hit her throat. She closed her eyes and thumped her palm on her chest a few times.

He remained silent, so she continued, “The saying doesn’t really translate, I think. My mom and abuela always said it when my brother and I did something we weren’t supposed to and got caught. It just means, what’s done is done. Gotta deal with the consequences now.”

Alex tried another bottle, desperate for a distraction. What she wouldn’t give to be alone right now. Auzed growled, and before she knew what had happened, he’d stepped behind her and turned her around to face him. Wilson trumpeted a screech from the top of a cabinet above Auzed’s head.

“It’s okay, Wilson,” she assured in a tremulous voice. The little creature scampered to a corner, where it glared at Auzed from afar.

Alex leaned against the counter behind her and stared up at him. Keep it together. Keep it together. She was acting juvenile, and she knew it. He’d helped her so much, and he had every right to be pissed off. But this was her MO. She liked to avoid problems when possible. At least initially. She’d slink into her own mind and work through the situation alone, and then eventually, when she was ready, she’d address it. It drove her family crazy and was the reason she hadn’t worked up the nerve to officially dump Ray yet.

“We need to talk about this. We broke the law. You have to take it seriously. What happens if we do leave in a week and they find out we never married? Because they know the Queen is lying to help us, they won’t accept us not marrying well. They’ll see it as a slap in the face.”

“What would’ve happened if I hadn’t lied?” she asked without accusation. “Wouldn’t you have been in a similar situation? You’d have lost your job and all that for breaking the law and killing the sefa. And I’d be stuck here.”

The light green of his eyes darkened as he thought through her question. “Maybe. But that wasn’t your choice to make.” He was less than a foot away, hands gripping the counter on either side of her.

Her eyes stung. “What can I do, then? Should I make the lie real? I’ll do it. I’ll marry you.” Her vision grew glassy as she tried to hold his stare.

His brows drew together, and he scanned her face. She didn’t think he realized it, but he moved closer to her. “You’d marry me?”

“Is that what you want?” she asked, her voice thick. “Then it won’t really be a lie, and you won’t get caught.” Maybe that was the easiest solution.

“Really?” he rumbled. His gaze slid down her body, lingering at her bare upper chest. She shivered. Anger thinned his lips. “I don’t like being toyed with, Alejandra. If I married you, it wouldn’t be to get out of a lie. And it wouldn’t be because you pity me or feel indebted or because you’re desperate. Don’t offer it again.” He grabbed a light-green bottle near her elbow and pushed it into her chest. “When you’re ready to actually deal with this, let me know.”

He stalked toward the lift that went to the upper floor and was gone.


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