Iced, p.8

Iced, page 8

 part  #10 of  Valos of Sonhadra Series



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  Everyone but Zak gasped at her appearance. Shock and some slight fear could be seen on their faces. We stopped at what I thought Kira would deem a safe distance from the others.

  “H... hello,” she said, still clinging to me.

  They all touched two fingers to their heartstones in greeting.

  I quickly made the introductions, and Kira seemed surprised that I had a sister. Coelvek scrutinized her with an intensity that made even me uncomfortable to the point I frowned at him.

  “Forgive my rudeness,” he said to both Kira and me. “Your resemblance to the Strangers is disturbing, although the softness of your features clearly shows you are a different species. Please do not fear us. As overwhelmed as I may appear right now, I wanted to thank you on behalf of the tribes and myself. I understand my brothers never would have found us without you.”

  Kira’s cheeks flushed, and she gave him a timid smile.

  “I don’t have that much merit,” she said, releasing my arm long enough to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, then held on to me again. “I found it by accident. But I’m glad it led to your reunion.”

  “Humble,” Coelvek said with an approving smile. “Definitely not a Creator trait.”

  We all chuckled.

  “Thank you again, all of you. I will eagerly await to be reawakened.”

  Coelvek removed his heartstone and extended it to my sister. I could almost feel his soul leaving him as he once more became an emotionless shell. Without a word, he took his position back in the center of his alcove and closed his eyes.

  Kira reluctantly let go of my arm so that I could approach the alcove.

  “See you soon,” I said before activating the switch.

  A transparent wall closed before him and a liquid resembling water but thick like some sort of gel, poured into the alcove. It submerged Coelvek in seconds then hardened just as quickly. The transparent door slid back into the ground. Unable to resist, I placed my hand on the solid ice encasing him.

  “Sleep well, my brother,” I whispered.

  Chapter 6


  I hated how skittish I felt around the valos. They had been nothing but friendly to me despite my appearance. At five-foot-seven, I’d never considered myself a shorty, but surrounded by those guys, I felt tiny. My delicate bone structure didn’t help my cause. However, I’d never been the meek type, so thinking back on the way I’d clung to Duke’s arm had my cheeks burning with embarrassment.

  As much as I wanted to avoid offending my future hosts, I couldn’t keep my gaze from wandering back to the two women, Jaan and Lorvek. While touring the lab, I had noticed the female valos encased in ice. It had taken me a moment to recognize them as such since they had flat chests and bald heads like the males. However, the curve of their hips and the less broad shoulders convinced me they were females. Even their facial features had something feminine and more refined to them.

  The valos wanted to immediately head back to E’Lek. Since it was still night outside, Duke convinced them to wait until sunrise, as I couldn’t see in the dark. The considerate way in which he always tried to anticipate my needs made me warm and fuzzy inside. In the two years since my condemnation and incarceration, I’d learned the hard way about everyone fending for themselves. I’d been a mama’s girl; spoiled rotten but not a spoiled brat. It felt good having someone concerned about my welfare again, and not out of personal benefit to themselves.

  As we prepared for departure, Jaan’s gaze followed me and my interactions with her brother, with far too much interest. Although no one had flat-out said it, it seemed obvious she was their leader. I’d need to tread carefully with her as both their leader and Duke’s sibling. Getting on her bad side could spell trouble for me.

  When we exited the cave, the clear blue sky and the bright morning sun reflecting off the pristine, snowy flatlands forced me to squint. It felt amazing to no longer be cooped up in that kitchen and cave entrance; I loved the outdoors and hiking.

  I couldn’t see the slightest sign of the city off in the distance. It would take days to reach on foot, but the valos had made it in less than two hours after the blizzard had settled down. How?

  Zak, Jaan, and the two Hunters loaded up their leather bags with as much cream and as many casings as they could, as well as various samples of the paraphernalia found inside the lab and storage area. Although the bags would be too heavy for me to carry for more than a few meters, the valos lugged them around like they weighed nothing. I expected the males’ superior strength, but finding out their females were as strong as their males proved a pleasant surprise.

  I watched as they all took positions a few meters apart from each other, their feet spread as if taking position on a surfboard. They waved their hands toward their feet and what looked like a snowboard made of ice formed beneath their feet. I blinked in confusion. Aside from a soft breeze carrying the crisp scent of freshly fallen snow, there was nothing to carry them forward on those boards. No wind, no hill, nothing.

  Duke, unburdened by any bag, walked up to me.

  “You will travel with me.” His rumbling voice gave me some nice tingles. “I hope you enjoy speed. We won’t be racing each other today, but we want to reach E’Lek in an hour or so.”

  Oh shit!

  I shook my head, tight knots forming in the pit of my stomach. “I don’t like speed at all. It scares me. I have no problem with height, but not speed.”

  Duke gave me the same crestfallen expression he had two days ago when I asked him if he was messing with me about building a snowman. It dawned on me then that Duke had built a certain number of expectations as to what humans enjoyed based on his interactions with Lydia, and I kept deflating him each time by having radically different tastes. Once again, that woman confused the heck out of me. On the one hand, he described her as this selfless superwoman, and on the other, she seemed to either be very playful or totally immature.

  In this instance, I needed to set the record straight.

  “You know, humans aren’t all the same, just like I’m sure you valos don’t like the same things. Do we need to go fast?”

  I’d been in a car accident in my reckless teenage years. Lucky for the four idiots we’d been, except for a lot of bruises and a couple of fractures, none of us got seriously injured. Street racing in the wee hours of the morning after partying hard all night could have been fatal. But the scare of Tobias losing control and the car tumbling over itself before slapping into an electric pole had left a deep scar in my psyche. Shortly thereafter, neither my mom—nor my friends or relatives—allowed me to drive anymore. I’d become that chick that pissed everyone off by driving twenty under the speed limit. A lot of very aggravated drivers had worn out their horns trying to honk me into getting a move on.

  Nope, not me.

  “We must, Kira. Otherwise we will not reach the city before nightfall. These are hunting grounds. It isn’t safe to travel slowly or alone here. You can keep your eyes closed. I will not allow anything bad to happen to you.”

  His reasonable tone did nothing to appease me. But then, every time I took a car ride with anyone else in the years that followed that accident, nothing they ever said calmed me, either. Riding with my eyes closed pretty much became the norm when traveling with someone else behind the wheel. To add to the awkwardness, Duke pulled me close to him and suggested I face him if I didn’t want to look out. It would also protect my face and eyes from the wind.

  I still didn’t understand how this thing would work, but I wasn’t risking being left behind. Swallowing down the bile rising in my throat, I stood facing him. He wrapped his right arm around my waist and held me firmly against his muscular body. My stomach flip-flopped, but this time, a very different emotion stirred it. Before I could dwell on the feel of him surrounding me, the floor shifted beneath me. Looking down, I saw the icy snowboard take form.

  “Hold on to me,” Duke said.

  Without thinking, I wrapped my arms around his waist and presse
d myself against him. His heartstone flared, and his chest started vibrating against mine.

  Is he purring?

  Peering up at him, I found him staring right back at me. His expression said it all.

  Yep. Totally purring.

  A quick look at his sister confirmed that she was still watching us. Except this time, her eyebrow was doing that twitchy thing Duke’s had previously. The purring stopped as he frowned at Jaan. A taunting smile stretched her lips. I didn’t know whether to laugh, be annoyed, or feel embarrassed. I settled for a mix of all of the above.

  Coldness crawling over my feet had my head jerking down. A thin sheet of ice formed over them, anchoring me to the ice board.

  “It will prevent your feet from slipping,” Duke said. “We’re leaving now.”

  Instinctively, my arms tightened around him. Peering sideways at Jaan and Zak, I saw them both extend a hand behind them and make a gesture like someone throwing trash. A puff of frost appeared in that general area, and their ice board surged forward.

  My jaw dropped.

  At the same moment, our own board lurched, and I squealed, holding Duke even more tightly. The valos repeated the throwing motion, and their speed increased. Within seconds, we were gliding on the snowy plains at well over forty miles an hour.

  I squeezed my eyes shut and buried my face in Duke’s chest. His arm tightened around me. Holding on for dear life, I tried to convince myself that we were merely caught in strong winds. But the bumpy, fairly uneven ground had the board swaying, giving me the mother of all feelings of motion sickness. In an effort to settle my queasy stomach, I sucked a deep breath and was rewarded by the fresh scent of morning dew. Duke’s scent.

  For the first time, I fully realized how intimately our bodies were intertwined. He no longer did the throw motion but held his hand behind him. His body moved effortlessly with the board to maintain our balance over the lumpy terrain. I could feel the dance of his muscles against me, the way they rolled, bulged, and shifted beneath my palms. The texture of his naked skin felt cool and hard, yet incredibly supple to the touch.

  The queasiness gave way to a pleasant, fluttering sensation. I opened my eyes and blinked, blinded by the brightness of the sun reflecting on the snow. Turning my face towards Duke, my lips brushed against his collarbone. His shoulders tensed, and his arm tightened around me. My hands slipped up from his waist to the middle of his back, more like in a caress than an actual adjustment of my hold. The vibrating purr in his chest started again.

  What the heck am I doing? Molesting my driver?

  I wasn’t, since you couldn’t molest a consenting adult.

  But is he consenting? And do I really want to go there?

  My mind definitely did not want to go there and deal with the headache of a relationship—much less a human-alien relationship. My body, though, had some quite different ideas. I wanted to slip my hand down under the elastic waistband of his loincloth to find out first hand—pun intended—just how firm those round buttocks of his actually were. However, that would be crossing a line I was already toeing. Instead, I lifted my head up slightly, nuzzling his neck as a result. His purring intensified, and his lips brushed my forehead.

  Not daring to push things any further than this not-so-innocent flirting, I remained still in his cool embrace, his heartstone diffusing a pleasant warmth against my chest. Time lost all meaning as I surrendered to his firm, but gentle hold. The brisk wind blew through my hair and over my exposed legs and arms, its soft whistling rising above the grinding sound of the ice board gliding over the snowy plains. Beneath all that, the swishing hum of Duke’s heartstone lulled me into a blissful sense of well-being and safety. I could have stayed wrapped around him like that forever.

  A distant rumbling, like rolling thunder, drew me out of my sensuous haze. The sound gradually grew louder. A seagull-sounding series of squawks followed moments later, snapping me back to full awareness. Casting aside all fear of speed, my head jerked around in search of the cause of such ruckus. My eyes bulged at the sight of a herd—or was it flock?—of what looked like scaled, white ostriches with leathery wings, and dinosaur legs.

  They ran in the opposite direction of us, their plump bodies swaying from side to side with each step as if they were performing some kind of line dance, or in the way speed skaters often did. Although the bird-dinosaur-things were calling out to each other with their squawking, their movements held no urgency or panic. Casting a fearful glance at the other valos, I saw that they observed the herd with casual interest, seemingly unfazed by the presence of the creatures.

  I peered up at Duke to find him looking down at me with a tender smile. My stomach did a couple of somersaults. His eyes glowed as they studied my features. He leaned forward and, for a brief instant, I thought he was going to kiss me. My lips parted in anticipation.

  “Do not worry about the Gauhens,” Duke said. “They aren’t aggressive and only feed on roots, nuts, and seeds.”

  “Oh,” I said, failing to hide my disappointment. His knowing smile made me want to kick him, but as he was carrying my sorry butt at lightning speed in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, I wasn’t risking either of us taking a spill. “They are beautiful... in an odd-looking kind of way.”

  Duke’s smile broaden. “So are you.”

  I frowned, pretending to be offended, although I knew—or at least hoped I knew—what he meant.

  “So am I... what? Odd-looking? That’s not a very nice thing to say!”

  Duke’s eyes widened, a horrified expression descending upon his sharp features.

  “No! Not at all! I meant you, too, are beautiful. Very beautiful.”

  Yeah, okay. I’d been fishing for a compliment. But to hear him say it so bluntly did all kinds of delicious things to me.

  “Thank you,” I said in a conciliatory tone. “You are very handsome, too.”

  He beamed at me, giving me a full view of his razor sharp teeth.

  Okay, handsome with quite the bite.

  Those would take some getting used to. But hey, I’d gone from regular human woman with an ordinary life to female snow elemental, castaway on an uncharted planet, with a big crush on a very sexy alien iceman. A set of sharp teeth was nothing in the greater scheme of things.

  Although still feeling skittish about the speed at which we traveled, my curiosity about our environment had been piqued by the Gauhens. With my feet locked onto the board, I couldn’t turn around, and looking over my shoulder quickly became strenuous. After cussing at my cowardice, that had put me in this position in the first place, I snuggled back against Duke, who purred with contentment. There’d be plenty of time for sightseeing, and I was still tired from my sleep getting cut short last night.

  Approximately twenty minutes later, Duke announced our arrival at the city.

  Looking over my shoulder, I saw a tall statue just beyond one of the rare hills visible in this otherwise flat region. Above the hill, the white, pyramid-shaped tip of what I assumed was a building, protruded. Our speed steadily decreased as we drew closer to the city.

  We stopped at the foot of the statue, and Duke unraveled the ice board and the ice sheet that had secured my feet to it, before releasing me from his embrace. I missed the latter and let him go with a bit of reluctance. From the look in his eyes, he seemed to share the feeling. That made me both thrilled and concerned. I’d only met this guy three days ago, but the strength of my attraction to him left me reeling. Coming to E’Lek hadn’t been about finding love or romance. Duke was an amazing bonus or a major complication that I didn’t quite know how to handle. Yet, I’d given him plenty of signals that he appealed to me, and he did. I just didn’t think it was wise to explore that right now.

  Free to move at last, I stretched my limbs and took in my surroundings. The word breathtaking came to mind when gazing upon the E’Lek Valley. In the distance, directly opposite the city, a large waterfall roared from within the tall cliff we had followed on our way here. It poured into a wide river
that ran a few meters from the city and far past it. Both the river and the flat land in front of the city shimmered like diamonds under the reflection of the morning sun.

  The giant statue of a stunning woman greeted us at the entrance of the city. Carved in white stones, easily twice my height, she stood with arms extended, presenting a pretty flower in an offering gesture. Similar flowers surrounded her feet. It was a magnificent piece, clearly made with love. But the woman’s features didn’t belong to an alien. She looked human; a beautiful human female of African descent.

  Frowning, I cast a suspicious glance towards Duke who was quietly observing me. Movement at the edge of my vision distracted me as our companions made their way up the wide stairs next to the statue, leading up into the city. Returning my attention to Duke, I gave him a questioning look.

  “Is this Lydia?”

  “Yes,” he said with a wistful smile that set my teeth on edge. “She’s our iwaki; the giver of life.”

  “She’s your leader?” I asked, flabbergasted.

  I understood gratitude for her rescuing them, but this? Come on!

  Duke burst out laughing. “No, Kira. Lydia isn’t our leader. She worried we thought so, too, when we first showed her the statue. It used to be Tarakheen’s statue, in a different pose, but she didn’t deserve the honor of gracing our city entrance—or any other part of our city, to be honest.” He turned back to look at the statue, then pointed at its hands cupping the flower. “This is an iwaki. The symbol of life and rebirth. Lydia brought this city back to life. It is only fitting that she should greet newcomers and let them know that, within these walls, life blossoms and thrives.”

  Lydia, Lydia, Lydia... How perfect art thee?

  I immediately kicked myself for the petty thought, but Duke’s visible affection and awe for Lydia rubbed me the wrong way. Had Zak or any of the others shown the same reaction, I’d probably have merely shrugged it off or smiled with indulgence. While fairly confident and self-assured, I couldn’t help fearing he would compare me to her and find me lacking. She’d set the bar so high that no one else could dream of matching, let alone surpass.

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