Slow and Steady – The Velveteen Tortoise – Chapter Twenty

There Be Mature Content Here

Please be advised that the following is intended for mature readers only.

Chapter Twenty

(Finished – 10/28/2021)

Pyxis The Restrained

I enter the clearing before the cabin a split second after Kinixys. If Ryorin is already there, I don’t take note of him.

My focus is solely on my mate.

Luna, who had been sitting on the front steps of the cabin, is pushing up to her feet. Her gaze locks with mine and—

Time stops for me.

Rays of sunlight that have penetrated Briarwood’s upper canopy illuminate Luna in the daytime shade. She’s like the moon glowing in the darkness. Like the ocean tide, I am pulled toward her.

Her lips are parted, like she’s gasping in surprise or is about to call out to me. One hand is grasping her skirt in a white knuckle grip. The other is pressed to her belly. Concern slices through me. Does food still turn her stomach? Has she been eating?

Her gaze, though bright as she stares at me, look bruised. The delicate skin beneath her eyes are darker and inflamed.

She blinks, breaking the insulated moment that we both shared, and takes a step toward me.

A chittering—like a pitched squeal—has Luna turning and looking behind her.

In the window of the main room—something my people call a gathering pod—are two human woman. They’re huddled together as they gaze out at us. And—

Look at that.

They appear to be in the process of hanging curtains.

“Heya, Pyx.” Luna calls out to me.

I go to reply, but she’s turning toward Jo.

“Just a second,” she says as she thumps her foot.

Jo is kneeling in her small area of the clearing—the same place where she had me crush Luna’s bread—and weeding out Briarwood ground creeper. She pulls out a vine, then rhythmically drums her palm on the ground. Luna uses her foot to thump back. Jo replies with more palm-on-dirt drumming.

Ah. My mate and bestest friend are doing their coded messages to one another. It’s fabulously clever.

But Ryorin doesn’t think so.

The entire time Joia’s been working, he’s been hovering over her and talking endlessly. He’s fully covered in our armor, so I can’t see his face. But he’s been gesturing with his hands and shifting on his feet, being far more animated than an Akupara should be when amongst Outbalers.

Now he’s gone still. With his head cocked, he’s staring down at Joia’s hand. It’s as if he’s baffled that Joia has the nerve ignore him yet respond to Luna.

Ryorin the Bastion is sulking.

Huh.

Luna thumps one more message, then throws up her arms. “Fine. Whatever. I don’t care.”

She stomps over to me, her steps determined and her expression serious.

I look from her to Jo. “Luna?”

“It’s just Jo being Jo.” She waves off my concern. “We gotta deal with an audience, and—” Her brow wrinkles as she runs her confused gaze over me. “What’s all over you?”

I glance down. Oh. I’m still covered in crusty innards.

Kinixys zips up next to us. His chest is heaving as he turns in a tight circle, scanning the area.

“Where is my mate?” His voice is low, booming with authority.

He’s making a demand of Luna.

I don’t like it.

I snarl and start to lunge—

Luna presses her palm to my plastron and I jerk to a stop.

“Just, hang on, Pyx.” Then she mumbles something about an obvious foreseen small problem. She groans, and then says, “Yeah, Kin, I can take you to Rez.”

“Then take me,” my sibling growls.

So I growl.

Luna’s tiny, yet ferocious growl stops us both.

“You both done?” She glares at us, pinning my sibling and I, each one at a time, with a fierce look.

“Yes,” I say.

While Kinixys grumbles, “I need to see my mate—”

Luna tisks. “Thought you were done.”

My sibling—who’s shorter than I am, but packs more muscle—exhales and dips his chin.

“Awesome,” Luna says.

But it doesn’t sound like praise. Her voice is low and firm, like she’s unequivocally crushing any urge to rally against her will.

I’ve never seen Luna like this. So confident and assertive. It’s utterly fascinating and…

By Aku. It’s fabulously sexy.

“Listen, Pyx,” she says.

She already possesses my full focus, yet I snap to attention as if I’m in the presence of my commander.

“Just don’t, um, do anything.” She applies more pressure to her palm that’s on my plastron. “Just stand there.”

“Just stand?”

“Yeah. I need to take Kin to Rez.”

The face that Luna makes—part disgust, part resolve—is fantastic to see. She appears reluctant but determined—the mark of a person who’s powered by her sense of duty.

I’ve missed seeing this side of Luna. She’s so utterly beautiful when she’s getting ready to kick ass. To see her like this has affection blooming in my chest.

She nods at me—reinforcing her command—then lifts her hand away. There’s black tar-like guts coating her finger tips.

“It’s important. All right?” She’s staring at her fingers as she’s rubbing them together. “Just…just wait…”

Her voice trails off as her brows furrow in concentration. Smoke is curling up from her fingertips. Turning, she walks toward Kin and the cabin’s doors. All the while, she’s still studying her hand as if she’s trying to make sense of what she’s touched.

Kin’s standing by the door, practically vibrating with impatience. “Rez—”

“Yeah.” Luna picks up her pace. “I know where she’s at. Just, come on.”

My mate and sibling disappear inside the cabin.

“Well, look at you.” Jo’s brushing dirt from her hands as she walks over to me.

Ryorin, of course, dogs after her.

Jo bumps me with her elbow. “You’re doing a fabulous job listening to Baby Bunny.”

“You think so?” Because I really don’t want to wait here while she walks off with another male. Even if that male is my deliriously, happily mated sibling. It would go against several natural instincts for anything to pass between Luna and Kinixys. Yet, all I want to do is bolt into the cabin and toss Kinixys out the nearest window.

Or through the nearest exterior wall.

Yep. Nearest is my preference at the moment.

“You holding all that bloodlust inside is actually a good thing right now, Fanboy.” Joia subtly cants her head toward the gathering pod’s front window. The women are still there, staring out at us. “They needed to see this. That not all guys will treat them like shit.”

Ryorin jerks and straights his back. “Human males don’t respect females?”

“Gary does.” I snap, my anger flaring at Ryorin’s disgusted tone.

Gary’s not like the other males in the humans’ settlement. He took care of Luna when I couldn’t—brought her food and stood up to Benny over and over.

Suddenly, my chest is tight. “How is he?”

“He’s gonna be fine, Pyx.” Joia gives me a solemn nod. “Luna took real good care of him. He’s resting now.”

“Fab—” My voices catches. “Good. That’s good.”

Gary’s the best fucking human male there is.

 Jo arches a brow at me. “And what else is he?”

I know she’s prompting me. I also know what she expects to hear. I’m just not sure how she’ll feel about my answer.

“He’s one of my bestest friends,” I say as I gaze down at her, trying to gauge her reaction.

Joia looks up at me and gives me a gentle smile. “That’s fucking fabulous, Fanboy.”

Yes. It is.

“He’s a real good guy,” Jo says. “So, look out for him. Good people tend to do the most idiotic, stupidest things.”

True. Like attack a mutated War-wolf to save my mate.

Ryorin snorts as he folds his arms. “This Gary must be an outlier amongst his own kind, and not in an admirable or attractive way. Being ‘good’ is a barely notable attribute. He must be mundane, like all other human males.”

Jo glares up at Ryorin. “What is it with you and Gary?”

“Me?” Ryorin leans forward, lowering his head. “What is it with you—”

From inside the cabin, Kinixys roars.

Then he stops. His bellow is cut off before he’s vented all his rage.

I’m start to lunge forward, but then I pull back.

Luna told me to stay.

But I don’t fucking want to.

I curl my hands into fists, but there’s no creak. My gauntlets are gone. They were shredded as I tore apart my mate’s enemies.

“By Aku!” Ryorin zips in front of Jo, positioning himself between her and the cabin.

His entire body, like mine, is radiating battle readiness. 

“Why is The First Runner Up, The Last Emeritus in such a fury?” Ryorin gives Jo a quick, assessing glance. I know the protocol. He’s verifying that she’s shielded behind him. “More of those unnatural beasts, perhaps? Or has Gary finally revealed his true nature?”

“For the love of—” Jo growls as she whaps Ryorin across his carapace.

With a frustrated huff, she turns to me, giving the other warrior her back. She misses that Ryorin has whipped his head to look over his shoulder at her.

“Your brother’s found Rez,” Jo says. “And Luna’s knocked him out to fix the whole baby-making-thing.” Then she faces Ryorin and holds up her hands. “And you. Wow. Just wow.”

“Does that mean you’re…” Ryorin looks from Jo to me. “Does that mean she’s impressed?”

“What?” Jo rears back, blinks, then shakes her head. “That whole ridiculous list of dangerous ‘Are You Fucking Kidding Me?’ took, like, thirty seconds to recite. Do you know how many times over we’d all’ve been murdered before you’d gotten done posturing and actually attacked something?”

“You wish me to answer mathematically?” Ryorin turns to fully face Jo. “Because my answer would be based on…”

The warrior trails off as he gaze drifts toward the forest.

Jo looks from the treeline back to Ryorin. “You’re answer would be based on what? Your asinine arrogance?”

“Instinct.” Ryorin jerks, as if he’s been struck.

Shaking his head, he starts to walk toward the trees.

By Aku. I should have seen this sooner.

“Joia,” I say low in warning.

She waves me off. “I got it handled. Pompous just needs a good knock on the head.”

“That won’t…” What word do I want here? “Work?”

“I’ll give it all I’ve got anyway.” She points at me. “You, though.”

“Me, though?”

“You’re all good now?” She crosses her arms and studies me. “Did all your soul searching already? Got all of that internal turmoil outta your head?”

I nod once. “I spoke to Kinixys.”

She gives me a doubtful look. “And how’d it go?”

Talking about my father’s sacrifice, my mother’s betrayal, and my own affliction is always hard. Only this time? It went well. Which surprises me. 

I can’t help but laugh in amazement. “Ryorin actually—”

“Don’t.” Jo holds up her hand. “Don’t say anything else.”

Luna hustles out of the cabin. “Okay! I’m back!”

Jo leans close to me and says in a rush, “I’ve got an endless supply of zero shits to give about that guy.” She pokes me in the plastron and hits the only place not covered in dried out guts. “Don’t ruin that for me, Fanboy.”

“Ruin what?” Luna’s cheeks are flushed and her voice is a bit too enthusiastic.

Jo glares at her. “Not your problem, Baby Bunny.”

“Not my—” Luna purses her lips as she stares Jo down. Then she nods. “Know what? You’re right. Not my problem. But I need some help?”

She takes a deep breath, like she’s re-centering herself. Gathering her strength.

I brace. This could be bad. Luna’s fidgety. Like she’s carrying a secret and no longer wants to be burdened with holding her tongue. Her ability to resist for these past twenty seconds is truly astounding.

When I’m told a secret, I blab it immediately.

Luna exhales and rattles out, “It should only be a quick peek under Kin’s armor and I’d really like someone else to have that image seared into their memory. So, if—”

Joia groans and rolls her eyes. “Fine. I’ll do it.”

Luna’s entire body goes slack. “Oh, thank you so much.”

“Whatever.” Jo waves her off and starts toward the cabin. “But your asking for help still needs a shit ton of work.”

“It so does. I totally agree.” Luna nods as she calls after Jo. “You know what you’re looking for up there?”

“Yep.” Jo tosses her hand up without turning around. “I’m on it. I’ll just grab Jarvey on my way.”

“Jar—? Kin—?” Ryorin is sputtering as he’s taking long, swift strides and intercepts Jo at the cabin’s doors. “What business do you have with those males?”

Jo brushes right past him and goes inside. “Someone’s gotta check for a cum-coated codpiece.”

“Cum-coated?” Ryorin tenses and looks to me.

But I’ve got nothing. I’m forcing myself to willfully not understand or even be slightly curious about it. Because that means my mate touched my sibling’s bare skin and…

Yep. I am not fascinated by this at all.

Ryorin, as if sensing all that, snarls at me in frustration and hustles after Jo. “If you need something covered in cum, then I’m…”

His voice fades off.

Now it’s just me, my mate, and two human women…

Um.

Luna tracks my gaze to the front window of the cabin. “That’s Howie’s and Bianca’s mums. They’re gonna be staying here.”

I nod once. “They need to watch me not treat you like shit.”

“They need to?” She frowns at me. “No. This is their new home. And, um, more settlers from Two-Four-Kay are coming. So…”

Luna is doing what Rez tends to do. Talk and talk until she’s run outta words to speak. It’s endearing, but it’s also frustrating.

“Is that what you want?”

Because if it’s not, I can run them off. It’d be totally easy to do.

“It’s totally what I want.” I hear the certainty in her voice. “The cabin’s big, Pyx. Like, freaking huge. And people like Howie’s and Bianca’s mums need a place to live. Because those modulars? Fixing them’s a lost cause.”

I nod. “Got it. No more taking shits in shitters.”

Luna’s doing the right thing. Her solution isn’t to waste time on fixing something that’s truly broken and useless. She’s using different resources—her cabin—to address the problem.

“Right.” She’s gazing up at me, her brows raised.

I see. My mate is also using the human prompt for me to share my thoughts.

I tell her the truth. “I think it’s fabulous that you’re opening your home like this.”

She grimaces and gives me a hesitant look. “Was kinda hoping it’d be our home.”

Again, that tight, overwhelming feeling grips my chest. “Ours?”

She nods. “Yours and mine. Together. Because I know how you like to do things together with me.”

She sounds like she’s asking me. Do I like to do things with her?

“Like? No.”

“Oh.” Her voice is small. “I just thought—”

I step closer to her. “I fucking love doing things with you.”

“You do,” she says on a breathy sigh. Then she laughs, bright and happy as she smiles up at me.

I reach for her, my hands shaking as I go to cup her face.

“Do you hear that…” Luna frowns and turns away from me. “That whistling?”

An Akupara warrior bursts through the tree-line, into the clearing.

It’s Bracys.

He’s moving too loose. His limbs are rippling then stiffening so that he can run. He’s moving fast, not at full Akupara speed, but still—

He charges the cabin.

I move, blocking his way as the human women scream and run from the window.

Without a word or harsh grunt, Bracys backhands me—

I slam into the rack of Luna’s bread.

By Aku. Bracys’s blow has sent straight through the ground floor windows—smashing through Briarwood hardwood timber and shattering shatterproof Akupara clear panes.

I expect the warrior to be on me, raining down with more punishing blows.

But he’s not here. Rather, Luna’s reaching for me.

I move to sit up and hiss in pain.

My back—my carapace plates are cracked.

“Oh, Pyx,” Luna moans.

Everything about her is shaking. Her voice. Her hands. Her eyes glisten with fear and tears.

“This’s gonna hurt, Pyxis.” She pulls back and curls her hands into tight fists. “Sorry. So sorry.”

“I know.” And I accept that because I know Luna would never deliberately hurt me. 

She moves, striking like a viper, as she slaps her hands onto my back.

I roar. The pain is…beyond description. Just like I always fail to find the words to express what Luna means.

My mate is magnificent. She holds in her hands the power to heal broken things. And she’s using those hands on me as she keeps her gaze locked on my face.

She nods. “Good?”

“Good.” My voice, like hers, is lanced with exhaustion.

But we’re not done.

As we hobble back through the gaping hole in the kitchen, another window shatters. The shards of the pane rain down from above as Bracys hits the ground. The warrior lands on his feet. One hand smacks the ground—balancing him—as the other holds Jo, who’s slung over his shoulder.

Luna bellows—not a shriek of fright but outrage—as she bolts toward Bracys.

I’m there, right behind her.

Bracys swings and I grab his fist, stopping the blow that he’d aimed at Luna’s head. There’s a split second where he and I are locked together, then his limb goes limp. I stumble forward, diving and rolling to avoid crushing Luna.

Rocks start pummeling Bracys. I glance over toward the smashed opening into the kitchen. Bianca’s throwing rocks—No. Not rocks. She hurling the small bread rolls that had been on the baking racks. Howie and the hatchlings’ mothers are there, too, lobbing more rolls for Bianca to throw.

The furious cries of humans engaged in warfare surround me.

And… it’s not so much fearsome as it is triggering my need to protect them. These humans are mine and Luna’s.

Well, mostly Luna’s.

And I’ve always hated Bracys, so it’s a fucking pleasure to have more reasons for pummeling him into a pulpy mess…

As I jump to my feet and square off with my mother’s advisor, I’m stunned by what I see.

Luna’s using her speed to zip around Bracys, trying to remain behind him as he pivots. All the while, Jo’s frantically running her fingers over the armor covering Bracys’s carapace, as if she’s looking for—

There’s a quick succession of pops and hisses. Both are the telltale sounds of the seams in our armor splitting open.

Ah. I got it now.

I launch at Bracys again. Moving as fast as I can, I dismantle his armor as Joia pops more seams. Within the eye of this storm is my mate, my bestest friend, and the enemy. 

And I see all of it.

Each panel of armor that I viciously, yet precisely, tear away.

Each exposed swath of Bracy’s skin.

And Luna’s there with me.

Her brow’s furrowed in intense concentration as she’s rapidly touching Bracys every place I expose. But she can’t keep this up.

So I peel away another chunk of armor and then spin Bracys so that Luna no longer has to keep moving her feet. All she has to do it touch each new, bared spot.

We hit a rhythm. I tear and turn Bracys. She touches him. Over and over.

A roar that’s been growing, increasing in volume as the newcomer gains speed and races closer, finally reaches its peak. Ryorin the Bastion barrels through the hole in the kitchen’s exterior wall.

Luna, without faltering, touches Bracys’s bare hand. He quivers and releases Jo.

I snatch Jo up and toss her to Ryorin. 

With Luna and Joia outta the fray, I drop all my restraints. With a guttural growl, I pivot back to Bracys and tear his arm off.

Black, tar-like sludge sprays outward, adding to the splatters already sticking to my armor.

Luna shrieks. She’s pulling me back. But Bracys is still on his feet.

I roar and start to zip past Luna. But Ryorin is there. Roaring and bellowing like feral male, he tears into Bracys.

Luna’s rambling as she’s running her hands over my armor, incinerating the fresh globs of innards.

“Luna!” Jo shouts as she’s trying to pull Ryorin away from Bracys’s remains.

Luna starts to move, and I hold her back. My heart is slamming into my ribs and every fucking instinct is roaring at me to not let her go.

“Please, Pyx.” Luna pushes against me. “Please. They need me.”

I snarl. No. My mate. Safe. Always safe.

“You did the hard part. Let me finish it.” Luna’s hands are engulfed in blue flames. “This is what I do. I’ve got this.”

Because she’s my mate…

Because she’s commanding me…

I stand aside.

She goes to move, but then hesitates. “But, could you get Ryorin outta the way?”

My fucking pleasure.

I circle my arms around Ryorin’s neck and pull him back. Luna thrusts her flaming hands into the mangled mess that was once Bracys and sets it all ablaze.

CRASH!

Jarvys come tearing through another wall of the cabin. Landing in a crouch, he starts whipping his head around, looking for danger.

Luna looks up from her grim work and groans. “Seriously, Jarvys? The doors’re right there. Right there!”

There are now three holes smashed into our cabin. But I’m not worried. Looking down at the small, round versions of Luna’s brick bread, I know exactly how to fix this.

And Luna and I can do it together.

Jarvys rushes toward my mate. “Luna the Baby Bunny! Get back!”

I growl and intercept him.

“Pyxis the Restrained!” Jarvys’s voice is edged with panic. “Get her away! We can’t risk her hatchling!”

 Her…hatchling?

I turn to look at Luna.

Her hands are alight with flames that are licking her skin. She’s elbows deep in the corpse of our enemy, and she’s looking up at me with the most contrite expression.

“Surprise?” She shrugs. “We’re gonna have a kid together.”

Tapping my helmet’s retractor, I let it close and fall uselessly to the ground.

One word squeezes past my constricted chest. “Together.”

“Togeth—” Luna scowls at me. But then something about my tone and the look on my face must sink in, because she starts nodding. “Oh, you mean do this whole parent thing together, like partners.”

I’d meant like mates, but whatever. Luna’s onboard. That’s all that matters.

My mate looks at Jarvys and scowls. “Because Jarvys over there almost got his ass—”

I snatch Luna up.

“Hey!” She tries to twist in my arms. “Not done burning—”

I kiss her.


Luna the Baby Bunny

I’m in Pyx’s arms. My legs are wrapped around his waist. His lips are locked with my mine. My shebits don’t just tingle; they’re vibrating with need. And my desire bypasses ‘slow simmer’ to full on ignition.

I’m burning both inside and out. 

How I missed him…

Hell, how I’ve needed him…

“By Aku,” Pyx mumbles in astonishment as he buries his face into my neck. His chest is heaving and I can feel him trembling. “A hatchling. Our hatchling.”

And he says those words with such wonderment and gratitude that my heart’s melting and breaking all at once.

I release a body-wracking sigh and say, “Done burning that…”

And, of course, the first thing outta my mouth is the last thing I’d been saying before he’d kissed me.

So, I guess this part of me will never change. There’ll always be an idiot inside of me, waiting to pounce at just the wrong time. Because only an idiot would have her mind so scrambled by Pyxis’s utter awesomeness to ruin such a tender moment like this.

“Burning,” Jo says with a determined nod. “Right. On it.”

As she’s stomping toward the smoldering remains of Bracys, she’s also adjusting an armored gauntlet—that’s way too large—on her hand. The more she fidgets with it, the more the armor resizes to fit her.

“Fucking Whistler,” Jo spats as she flicks something on the gauntlet.

A searing beam—sorta like a soldering laser—shoots from her armored hand. With methodical swipes, she starts burning the writhing tar-like stuff.

Ryorin, who’s sitting on his butt, makes an astonished, affronted snort.

“How?” He’s snapping his helmet from Jo’s armored hand to his bared one. “How?”

Jo looks at Jarvys as she tilts her head toward Ryorin. “Go burn that shit offa him, Jarvey. Be thorough, too.”

Jarvys just stares at Jo’s hand. 

And even I gotta admit, I have no freaking clue how she filched that gauntlet off of Ryorin.

Jarvys holds up a finger. “If I may—”

“What you may comment on,” Jo says without taking her eyes off her task, “is how Fanboy, unlike you, never fucking doubted that Luna’s carrying his kid.”

I squeeze Pyx harder. He didn’t doubt it at all. Which is so fabulous, but still. He and I have got a crap ton of things to talk abut. 

“Fanboy!” Jo calls out.

Pyx sighs and lifts his head from the crook of my shoulder. “Joia?”

Jo cants her head toward the cabin. “Get gone.”

Ah, Jo. Just as I’ll always be a bit of an idiot, she’ll always be a bit of a sneakster.

Pyx gives me an uncertain look. “Is that what you want?”

“Yeah. Yes. Yes.” I’m nodding, too. Because, you know, my body’s still smoldering with need while my conscience is burning with guilt.

There’s lots of burning going on and containment is gonna fail. No ‘sooner-or-later’ about it, either. Everything going up in flames—and by everything, I mean me and Pyx—is a done deal.

Pyx doesn’t set me down as he enters the cabin. As he carries me up the stairs, I hear dreamy sighs coming from the left corridor. Peering from the kitchen are Howie’s and Bianca’s mums with sappy, lovesick looks on their faces.

I snap and growl at them. Mine!

Yeah, yeah. I know they’re oh-ing and ah-ing over ‘how romantic’ this all seems, but once this ‘sweeping me up the grand staircase’ moment is over…

Well, after this swoon-worthy display, Pyx and I could be over as well.

“Bet you’ve got questions,” I say as he turns and walks down the right corridor.

And I’m trying to sound all reasonable, because of course the guy—er, alien has questions. But I can’t get the quivering outta my voice.

Stupid voice.

Pyx doesn’t say anything. With his nostrils flaring, he takes me into the room where I’ve been staying.

Right. He’s using my scent to find my—well, I hope it becomes our room.

He goes to set me on my feet, but I don’t make it easy for him. Not because I don’t want to have this conversation like two adults.

It’s just that…

I haven’t held him for so freaking long.

“Luna,” he says.

And isn’t he just the model of composure!

Okay. Fine. I can do this.

I step back and look up at him. His helmet is off, and I can see his face, but I can’t read his expression. Which is a first for me when it comes to Pyx. He’s always so open and earnest with his thoughts.

But I gotta remember, there is so much to process here.

I dive in. “About the baby—er, hatchling.”

“You can say baby.”

“Awesome. Because humans call our babies, um, babies.” I’m an idiot.

Okay. Moving on.

I suppress my cringe and keep going. “Way back at the bale, when Rez and Jo’d confronted me about—”

No. That’s too far back.

“Anyway,” being so me, I dismissively wave away my own words, “I’m past being a scared idiot. When I’d first touched you, I didn’t know that I could unfixed you.”

Pyx cocks his head. “Unfixed?”

“Because you were fixed by your people, and I’d unfixed that by fixing…”

Pyx tilts his head the other direction.

“Yeah.” I sigh. “That’s confusing.”

“I thought you were gonna hug me,” Pyx says. “When you’d knocked me out? I thought you were gonna give me a hug.”

My cheeks prickle with shame. “Yeah. I remember that.”

I kinda should be honest with myself. I remember way more than what he’d said: “Oh, a hug? I’ve always wanted…”

I also remember the look on his face. Never has anyone looked at me like that. His open, delighted expression, had shook me to my core.

And if I’m being honest with myself, I might as well be honest with Pyx, too.

“I also remember…” My voice is all scratchy, so I clear my throat. “When I reached for you, you had this look.”

“I had a look?”

“Yeah. And after I’d,” I mimic touching his face, “I’d started thinking about that look. A lot.”

“Luna?” Pyx leans back and his voice sound uneasy. “How’d I look at you?”

Well, certainly not like this—all mortified and apprehensive.

“Hopeful.” I say quickly, wanting to reassure him. “Eager. Ecstatic. Like the thought of me hugging you…” Again with the dang scratchy voice crap! “It blew me away. It was magnificent.”

“I really, really wanted you to hug me.”

“I know.” Because, just like now, I saw and heard his desperate yearning. “But after the…Almost Hug?” Yeah. I’m going with that because it’s better than ‘It’s a Trap Hug’, “I really thought about you. A lot.”

“You’ve said that.”

“Like a lot, a lot.” I take a huge inhale, because this is it. Once I say this next part, I can’t undo it. “I’d thought that I’d somehow—without intending to—mated us. So when I’d told Jo that I was trying to fix you—”

“To unmate yourself from me?”

“To give you the choice, Pyx.”

I wait, hoping that what I’ve admitted will sink in. That he understands that it’s me, and not him, that’s the problem.

I’m the one who’d needed to be fixed.

“I’ve seen Kin with Rez,” I say. “He’s obsessed with her.”

“And she with him.” Pyx fires back.

“Yes. But my point is that they chose to be obsessed with each other.” Sure, it took them awhile to get there, but still. They chose. “So, I was trying to unmated you so that you’d have a choice before all the obsession stuff kicked in.”

Pyx’s brow wrinkles. “Luna.”

There’s a bit of tender hearted pity in his tone. It’s the voice I’d use to correct a child. It hits me harder than Pyx intended, but I feel like he’s calling me out.

Which he should because I didn’t tell him everything.

Like a guilty kid, I drop his gaze. “And I was trying to fix it before it would be too late for me.”

“Too late for you?”

“Before I wouldn’t have the strength to unmated us because I would be too far gone.” That’s not what I’d meant to say and I growl in frustration. Fine. I’ll say it. “That I’d be too in love with you to free you. So if you really did want to not chose me, then your choice wouldn’t’ve destroyed me. But now I realize that it was always too late for me and I’ll be able to put myself back together again.”

I’m still staring at my feet as I wait for Pyx to say something.

Silence.

Which I get. I’ve given him a crap ton to think about. He’s got a right to not speak while he’s thinking.

Unfortunately, for both of us, I’ve got more crap to dump on him.

“But, I’ve taken more than just your choice of mate from you.” Another heatwave of guilt prickles my face. “When I’d un-sterilized you, I took your choice away about becoming a father.”

More silence.

Which is totally fine. He needs a well-deserved moment.

But I still flick my gaze up, just to make sure that he’s—you know—still in the room and all.

Yep. He’s still here.

Staring at me.

My heart hammers inside my chest. “Pyx?”

He blinks and shakes his head. “I don’t know how…” He blows out a harsh breath. “You just told me so much.”

Yep. It’s all on the table. “Told you everything.”

“But,” he hesitates, “you didn’t tell me what you want.”

Oh. That.

Gees, I really do need to work on telling people what I want.

“I want it all.” I really, really do. “You. Our baby. To be Happily Ever Mated. To, um, you.”

Pyx nods his head. “I want what you want.”

I feel a pinch of disappointment. “You always say that.”

He shakes his head. “Luna, I’m telling you.”

I hear how he’s stressing those words. They mean something to him.

Okay, Brain and Heart, get your butts into gear. Please, please, please don’t be idiots.

I nod once. “I’m listening.”

“All of this? You. Our hatchling. Every last bit of all this—”

He stops.

Why the heck would he st—

He does another harsh, body-wracking exhale. “It’s fucking fabulous, Luna.”

I feel lightheaded. “It is?”

“I’m gonna be a father,” Pyx smiles and his eyes are glistening with emotion, “and the mother of my hatchling is the most amazing female in the entire universe.”

“Well,” I roll my eyes, “I wouldn’t say the entire universe.” 

Pyx keeps on going. “And we’re gonna raise our hatchling together.”

We are so gonna raise the crap outta our kid together.

As I’m smiling up at Pyx—imaging all the wonderful stuff that’s gonna come next, he frowns.

“But I won’t change,” he says.

He sounds sad about that, and I don’t get it.

“I’m not asking you to.” Wait a second. I do self-identify as an idiot, so I better make certain. “Am I?”

For the first time since we’ve started talking, Pyx reaches out and cups my cheek.

I nod once—slow and steady—to let him know that I get it. What he’s gonna say next is important.

But I still brace myself on the inside. Because, honestly, this is all going too well.

Suspiciously well.

Like, ‘why didn’t I do this sooner?” kinda well.

“Luna.”

Crap. “Yeah, Pyx?”

He caresses my cheek with his thumb and…

Am I crying?

“You are.” He smiles, and you know what?

He’s kinda got tears on his cheeks as well.

“I want none—not any of it—to change,” he says. “But I am a mated Akupara male. I can’t change. I don’t want to change. Do you understand?”

Um…I think so?

Wait. Not true.

I shake my head.

“My instincts are locked onto you.” His thumb keeps doing that soothing, sexy thing it’s doing. “I’m only fulfilled when I’m fulfilling your wishes.”

“That sounds…” I quickly reassess. Yep. I’m gonna stand behind my initial reaction. “That sounds really one-sided, Pyx. I don’t want that.”

He removes his hand from my face. “You don’t.”

He’s not asking me because, I think, that’s what he’d expected to hear. Only, I didn’t tell him the whole truth.

“Fine.” Who knew being totally honest could have so many down sides? “It sounds like it’ll be totally awesome for me but not for you.” I make sure we’ve got eye contact before I continue. “I wanna fulfill you, too.”

“But you do,” he rushes to say. “Well, you will. When I’m fulfilling you.”

“Okay that’s…” Oh, heck. He looks so hopeful. “Sweet? But also messed up. I’m not gonna take advantage of you.”

“I know you won’t.”

“You do?” I rear back to get a good look at him.

He nods once, and I get a glimpse of Charmingly Exuberant Pyx. But…

Come on!

“Yeah.” I stretch the word out. How can he be so certain? “You’re kinda serving yourself up on a silver platter here. I try to do good and all, but I also think there’s an evil streak inside of me.”

“Luna.” He sounds like he’s pleading with me to understand. “This is who I am. I’m a mated Akupara. But if I don’t get this right—” His voice devolves into a growling whine. “I don’t wanna hurt you again if I don’t get it right.”

“It?”

“It.” He gestures to—well, all of me. “Knowing when it’s you wanting as opposed to needing. Because my instincts demand that I give it to you.” He exhales and sounds exhausted and frustrated. “Just can’t tell.”

Ah. Got it. “So ask me. I’ll tell you.”

“Um…” He looks unconvinced.

Ah. Got that, too.

“You’re right.” I pat his shoulder. “You’ve always been all ‘what would you have me do’-ing and…” Yeah, hard truths are a’coming. “I haven’t always been honest with my answers because I was scared.”

“Scared that I’d hurt you.”

He nods like what I said makes perfect sense, and that just breaks my heart. “No. I’m scared that I’d mess it all up.”

Now he’s looking at me like what I’ve said is ludicrous—which is as sexy as it is flattering, however…

“Really, Pyx. I need to work on things. Lots of things.” I step closer to him and reach up to touch him.

I cup his cheek, and you know what?

The guy didn’t flinch at all.

Hell. I love the shit outta Pyx.

I brush my thumb over his cheek. “I need your help. When I forget to tell you, could you remind me?” I shrug. “Problem solved.”

His brow wrinkles. “That’s feels…”

“Too easy?” I nod. “Kinda feels like we’re cheating, right? But we’re not.”

“Feels like things can still go wrong.” He’s looking at his hands. “What if I get it wrong.”

“Then we’ll try again.”

Pyx has still got a wary look on his face.

“And again, and again,” I say encouragingly. “Until we get it right.”

But he doesn’t look convinced.

Okay, Luna. Now or never.

I go with my signature move and pull my dress up and over my head.

Yay! I only got tangled up, like, three times.

But I flick my gaze to Pyx to gauge how much of an idiot I am.

The heat in his eyes and tension in his body is telling. My warrior has his gaze locked on me like I’m the last morsel at a misleadingly promoted ‘All You Can Eat’ buffet.

Which means, I’m at a Zero Idiocy rating.

All righty! This is gonna be great!

Hoping that I look like some sexy goddess, I start sliding one strap of my bra down until my perky nipple is revealed.

Okay. That doesn’t go as planned. My nipples aren’t perky, and unfortunately, a boost to one’s confidence does not boost the bosom as well.

Once I’ve slid down my bra strap, the flimsy cup of my bra flops down. Kinda like it’s relieved to no longer be accountable for holding the weight of my boob.

And my boob? Well, it kinda flops out, too.

Stupid boob.

Stupid—

Pyx releases a deep growl that rumbles with appreciation and appetite.

Got it.

Pyx wants me.

Go me!

I roll my shoulders, arch my back, and—please, oh please let this work—issue a sultry command. “Take me, Pyxis.”

He starts ripping off his armor without taking his eyes off my breast. “Take you?”

“Yes. Take me.” I’m breathing faster as Pyx keeps shredding his armor and revealing more of his amazing body. “Take me however you want—”

Pyx tackles me onto the bed.

Note to future self: When you let Pyxis the Restrained off the leash, set any boundaries in advance to eliminate delays.

Such as:

I’m serious. No safe words.

Of course, nothing’s taboo. So, um, do that again.

For the love of god, please! Pull my hair!

Taking the time to clarify means Pyx takes me exactly how I want to be taken.

And being taken by my alien warrior mate is absolutely fabulous.

This chapter is complete! I’ve enabled commenting and have added my own thoughts as well.

As always, thank you so much for reading!

xo Bex

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From Slow & Steady: The Velveteen Tortoise
Copyright © 2020, 2021 by Bex McLynn
All rights reserved

One thought on “Slow and Steady – The Velveteen Tortoise – Chapter Twenty

  1. Grand Gesture Achievement has been unlocked!🎉

    Whew! I never thought that I’d finally get here!

    I gotta admit that I waffled (a lot) on whether or not to include another ‘on-page’ intimacy scene. Looking at the story, Luna and Pyx haven’t been ‘together, together’ since Chapter 13. And although I wanted to give them an ‘on-page’ moment together, I kinda like how the chapter ends now. Sexy. Playful. Open for individualized fantasizing…🙄 😘

    However, I do consider the lack of a final ‘on-page’ intimacy moment a failing (on my part) to provide reader satisfaction (to you all). I will definitely be addressing this in the next draft.

    What’s next is (hopefully) a heartwarming, yet swoon-worthy glimpse at Pyx’s and Luna’s WHOLE HEART happiness. It will be an epilogue-y chapter where we all get to see how deliriously fantastic these two are as a couple.

    This chapter added 6,500 words to the manuscript. The current word count total is 96,500. I’m pretty confident that I won’t crack 100K words wrapping up their HEA. But I do hope to have that written and posted before the end of the weekend.

    Thank you so much for reading!💜

    Like

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