(Saturday, October 28)
Zan lifted the weight with his right arm, bending his elbow to bring it up into a curl. He repeated the action with his left arm, alternating between the two, keeping up a steady rhythm.
Working out was a good way to alleviate frustration, and it gave him time to think. And the topic that had been on his mind more than any other since he’d come to Rowell was occupying his thoughts again.
All week he’d been considering her actions in the training session on Tuesday, and he still wasn’t any closer to an answer.
They had come so close to kissing, but after that she had kept him at a distance. She still came for the training sessions, still worked with him, still was the same friendly Liz, but she had also been cautious.
Any time he had tried to get close to her, she shied away, any time he tried to talk to her about what had happened, she changed the subject.
He was completely confused. He’d seen in her eyes that she was interested in him, he just couldn’t understand why she wasn’t letting something develop between them.
She’d started acting funny the next day, Wednesday. She’d come to training with the group and he’d waited until they were alone before he whispered flirtatiously in her ear. But she had completely ignored him. She’d given him a soft smile and then continued with her practice.
He’d been stunned at first. Then he reasoned that perhaps Liz didn’t want to flirt with him in front of her friends.
So he’d waited until the next day, Thursday, when they were alone to try again, but she’d still been distant. He’d almost decided that she’d changed her mind about him, but several times he’d caught her looking at him when she thought he wasn’t paying attention.
No, he’d told himself, she definitely wanted him, but something was holding her back.
He replayed in his mind over and over touching her, slowly getting closer to her until their bodies were touching and the intermingling of their breath as their heads had come together.
It had only been four days ago that he had almost kissed her, but it seemed like months. He wanted her so much.
Late Thursday night he couldn’t stand it any longer and he’d gone to the Crashdown just to see her. The restaurant was closed but he knew she lived above it and hoped to catch a glimpse of her through a window.
Around the side of the building he’d discovered a ladder and climbed it, only to find himself on a small balcony outside Liz’s room. She’d gone to bed early and even though it was dark inside he could see her small form restlessly tossing and turning.
Crouching down beside her window, he’d longed to hold her in him arms and comfort her until she slept more peacefully. He reached out, putting his hand to the glass and watched as her body calmed and she finally settled into a deep sleep.
Just being near her made him feel better, and more complete, and he’d stayed watching her for over an hour before he went home to his own cold bed.
The next night he had gone to see her earlier, climbing up on a nearby building where he could watch her before she went to bed.
She’d been sitting on the lawn chair on the balcony, wrapped in a blanket, reading a thick textbook.
He’d only been there a few minutes before she looked up expectantly as if she knew someone was watching her. Her eyes had gone directly to the spot where he was hidden and searched the darkness, and with surprise he’d felt a jolt of connection.
He hadn’t revealed himself to her though, and after a few moments she’d gone back to her book. He’d stayed until she finished and climbed back in the window.
He’d watched her getting ready for bed, taking off her clothes, revealing her beautiful body to him, piece by piece. Greedily he took in every inch of her, and he even caught a glimpse of creamy breast before she covered it with a nightshirt.
He’d groaned with longing and even though there was no way Liz could have heard him she’d jerked suddenly and turned to the window again. She looked out as if expecting someone, but after a long moment of staring into the darkness she’d turned away.
Sitting at her dressing table she’d brushed out her long hair, and then disappeared into the bathroom for a while. But Zan had stayed, watching her climb into bed and only left after her room had long gone dark.
Zan’s breath came out in rough pants as the physical exertion of lifting the weights started to take its toll, bringing him back to the present.
Turning he placed the weights in their racks, and grabbed his towel, heading upstairs to the shower. He stripped off his clothes and stepped under the hot spray.
He’d been so excited for Liz to come to training that morning. Ava was out with Kyle, and Zan knew he’d have Liz to himself.
She’d shown up on time, greeting him with her usual smile, but he could tell she was nervous and shy. Every time he got close to her, she took a step away, and when he’d touched her, she’d jerked in surprise. She was acting so different than she had before. Something was definitely wrong.
Maybe she thought he wasn’t taking this seriously, and was afraid of becoming just another notch on his belt. Maybe she thought he was only killing time with her, or he tried to seduce every beautiful woman he met.
Whatever the reason, they were moving in the wrong direction, and instead of letting it continue, he was going to find out what was going on.
Turning off the water, Zan headed for his room. With a swipe of his hand, he dried himself and fixed his hair. He went to his closet and grabbed some clothes, not really caring what he wore.
He had a plan now, and it made him feel more confident. He’d go talk to Liz and make her see he was serious about a relationship between them, and then she’d be his.
Max sat in his usual booth in the Crashdown with his books spread out before him, but he really didn’t see them. His thoughts were focused on other things besides homework.
He had tried not to let it bother him, he really did, but all week the same things had continued to run through his head over and over. He was becoming obsessed, with Zan.
Max sighed. He knew Zan was there to help, he was sure of it. He trusted him instinctively. His problem was that Zan was everything he wasn’t, and was everything his friends expected him to be.
Everything Zan did was cool, the car he drove, where he lived, how he dressed, how confident he was. Max felt like a complete nerd next to him.
And Max felt like he was losing his best friend, his only friend to Zan. Michael looked up to Zan, he followed Zan, respected him, accepted him as the leader with no questions.
Max felt a jolt of jealously twist his gut. In the months he had been in charge, all Michael had done was complain and criticize his leadership, questioning every decision, and condemning him for his lack of direction.
But Michael and Zan had hit it off instantly. They were both into cars and motorcycles. Zan was interested in sports, like Michael, and he seemed to spend every evening at Michael’s in front of the TV.
Another jolt of jealously made Max wince. It’s not like he and Michael had a lot of plans together, that Zan had interrupted. He and Michael had grown apart, and now Zan seemed to have more in common with his best friend than he did.
And then there was Liz.
The jealously inside Max felt like an aching wound, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the time that Liz and Zan spent alone. He barely saw her at school, and sometimes at the Crashdown, but Zan got to see her every day.
Max knew it was ridiculous. Zan only spent time with Liz to train her, but Max felt like she was spending more time with Zan than she was with him.
And he felt guilty too. Liz had powers because of him, and he didn’t know how to train her. He was so frustrated that he didn’t know how to help her keep herself under control and safe. If Zan hadn’t been there with the answers, he was afraid of what might have happened to Liz.
He felt a flash of anger and envy toward Zan. It seemed like Zan was taking over his life. Zan was a better friend, a better leader, a better king. So what did that leave for him?
His thoughts of Liz made him glance around the restaurant for her, but she was nowhere to be seen.
He wanted to tell her how sorry he was that he wasn’t the one training her. He wanted her to know that he accepted responsibility for her having powers, and would support in any way he could.
A sigh escaped him. He just felt so useless to everyone, but especially to Liz.
He always felt better when they were together, and he wanted her back desperately. The kiss they’d shared a few days ago had been so wonderful, but it seemed like an eternity to him. Things weren’t moving fast enough for him.
He’d told himself not to pressure her, but he couldn’t stand it anymore. He had to have her back in his life.
He looked at his watch again. He knew Liz wasn’t working today, but she usually came into the restaurant anyway, and he’d hoped to convince her to study with him.
Where was she?
Zan knew Liz wasn’t working that evening because they’d discussed it earlier at practice. He just hoped he would catch her alone.
He parked his car at the mouth of the alley, jogged eagerly to her ladder, and stood at the base for long moments, just listening. There weren’t any sounds from above, but somehow he just knew she was there.
Grasping a cold rung, he started to pull himself up. He didn’t want to scare her if she was reading on her balcony like he’d seen her doing before, so he tried to go quietly. As his head cleared the top he saw her, just as he’d pictured, wrapped in a blanket, reading, but her greeting took him by surprise,
Liz had heard someone climbing the ladder and without taking her eyes off her book she called out. “Hey, Max.” With a smile she looked up. “Oh,” she said, recognizing her visitor, “Zan, sorry.”
She put her book and blanket aside and got to her feet. “What are you doing here?”
Zan deftly leapt over the wall and crossed the few steps to her. “I thought we should talk.”
“Okay,” Liz said.
She looked down briefly and then back up to meet his eyes. Zan could see the nervousness in her. He was so used to taking what he wanted, but he’d reminded himself repeatedly that he needed to go slow.
“Liz,” he said softly, “I like you, and I think you like me, and I really want to get to know you better.”
Her eyes widened, and a small sound escaped her that might have been surprise. She’d tried to keep him at arm’s length, but she should have known it wouldn’t work. Zan was like Max, stubborn, and he’d never give up without a fight.
He continued. “We haven’t known each other long, but there’s something between us, a connection.”
Liz shook her head, looking away. Something was there but it wasn’t real, she told herself again. It was just her feeling for Max getting mixed up with Zan. “We can’t have a connection,” she denied. “We’ve never connected.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, “and that’s why it’s worth exploring,” he said, taking a step nearer. “The first time I saw you I felt it, and I know you felt it too.”
Liz’s eyes met his. Was she going to have to break his heart too?
Tess walked with determination. For the last couple of weeks she had given Max the space she thought he needed, but enough was enough. Instead of turning to her for friendship or comfort, once again he was pursuing Liz.
Anger boiled inside Tess as she continued along the sidewalk. She’d thought for sure Max would be hers after Liz had slept with Kyle, but again she’d been wrong.
She’d been supportive, listened to him, tried to be his friend, but nothing was working. He seemed to forget about her the moment she was out of his sight. Flirting with him didn’t work, giving him space didn’t work, so she’d decided that she would take the middle ground. She would try to be around him as much as possible.
That’s why she was heading to the Crashdown. Max was always there.
Tess rolled her eyes. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why either.
She walked past the alley next to the café, and stopped short, her temper rising to an almost uncontrollable level.
Max was climbing up the ladder to Liz’s balcony.
Shadows encased the ladder and she couldn’t see him clearly, but she recognized the outline of his strong body. And even if she didn’t she would have known who it was anyway. After all, who else would be climbing up to see Liz?
Tess fumed as she watched him incredulously. Didn’t he have any pride? How many times did Liz have to tell him she didn’t want him before he got the message?
Suddenly Tess’ anger turned to shock. The figure climbing the ladder emerged into the waning sunlight and she realized it wasn’t Max at all. It was Zan.
Her brow creased in confusion. Why was Zan climbing up to Liz’s balcony? How did he even know she had one?
Wait a minute, Tess thought, Zan had been waiting for someone at the training session, and she had assumed it was Max. But what if it was Liz?
Curious, Tess moved silently closer, eager to hear the conversation between them.
She heard Liz call out. “Hey, Max,” and then quickly changed to “Oh Zan, sorry. What are you doing here?”
So, Tess thought, Liz hadn’t been expecting him.
Zan’s deep tones answered her. “I thought we should talk,” he said.
“Okay,” Liz said.
Zan’s voice lowered as he continued, but Tess could still hear him, and she couldn’t believe her ears. She shook her head slowly. First Max and now Zan. Was every alien King destined to fall in love with Liz?
What did that mousy, human have that she didn’t?
Tess had been a queen, she had incredible powers, and she was willing to do anything for her King. Not to mention she was beautiful and had a killer body she had freely offered to Max.
But instead, both Max and Zan wanted Liz.
Tess’ thoughts drifted back up to the conversation taking place above her, and the more she listened, the more determined she became.
She smiled. She could use this to her advantage.
She’d always thought Liz was so uptight, such a good girl, but she had been so wrong. First Liz slept with Kyle and now she was moving on to Zan.
This was going to kill Max when he found out. He’d been so pissed about Kyle, but he had gotten over it pretty quickly. But when Tess told him that Liz was going after Zan, Max would hate Liz.
Tess practically bounced in place, and then turned and headed for the Crashdown door. She had to tell Max ASAP, she just hoped he had come to the café like he usually did.
Liz shook her head again, but Zan continued. “Go out with me,” he urged. “Spend some time with me, so we can see if this thing between us is real.”
Her heart thudded and she felt the overwhelming need to feel his lips on hers. But it’s not real, she said over and over in her head. It’s not real. I love Max, not Zan.
“Zan,” she said, surprised at how husky her voice sounded.
But she didn’t get the chance to finish the sentence.
Zan couldn’t stand it any longer. The way she was looking at him, her face flushed with desire, chased away all of his good intentions. He closed the few inches between them, cupping her cheek and softly fitted his lips to hers.
At first Liz didn’t respond. Zan could feel her surprise in the rigid set of her body, but he didn’t give up. Gently he brushed his mouth against hers again and again, coaxing her to relax.
He didn’t pull her toward him but raised his other hand so he had her head cradled, lightly stroking the soft skin of her face.
It certainly wasn’t the first kiss with her he’d envisioned, her holding herself so stiffly as he tried to persuade her it was okay. He was about to draw back, when he felt her give a large sigh and her lips moved under his.
It was as if she’d given up the fight against her feelings for him and she started to respond. Her body relaxed and her hands rose up to rest against his chest.
She kissed him back softly, her lips barely brushing his, and Zan felt his heart leap. She did want him.
Fighting to keep himself under control, he fit his lips squarely to hers, kissing her properly. The kiss went on and on, but Liz didn’t object or pull away. He slid one hand into her silky hair, urging her a little closer, and her body seemed to melt into him.
He didn’t want to scare her or rush her, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself from deepening the kiss. His tongue flicked against her lips, and a surge of pure desire rushed through his body when her tongue touched his.
A satisfied smile spread across Tess’ face as she looked through the front window of the Crashdown. Max was there, sitting in his usual booth, and if she hurried he would get a live show.
Pulling open the door, she headed directly for him, sliding into the seat across from him.
“Hey Max,” she greeted.
He was surprised to see her, she could tell. “Oh, hi Tess,” he greeted.
“So,” she said smoothly, “what are you doing here?”
“I’m waiting for Liz,” he said, hoping Tess would take the hint and leave. “We’re doing our homework together,” he lied, looking around, barely meeting her eyes. “But she’s late.”
Tess’ eyes sparkled with malicious mischief. He’d brought up the subject she wanted to discuss, and she leaned closer. “Oh, I know where Liz is,” she said, lowering her voice as if she were sharing a not-so-well-kept secret. “She and Zan can hardly keep their hands off each other,” she purred.
“What?” Max said incredulously, jerking back, his voice rising in pitch.
Tess noted that his face was white with shock and disbelief. “Oh sure,” she said with a sly grin. “You know how it is at the start of a relationship when you can’t get enough of each other.”
“What are you talking about?” Max demanded angrily. “They’re not together.”
A thousand thoughts were rushing through his head. Zan and Liz? It just wasn’t possible. Tess had to be mistaken, but she was talking about it as if everyone knew.
“Well of course they are,” Tess said with a giggle. “I heard them when I came in. They’re on her balcony right now, making out.”
Without another word, Max bolted out of the café and raced around to the alley. He grabbed a rung of Liz’s ladder and climbed like the fiends of hell were at his heels.
He’d never felt so angry or jealous in his life, but he couldn’t believe it was true. Liz wouldn’t betray him, he was sure of it. But Zan was another story.
Pulling himself up the last few rungs he kept telling himself over and over that Tess was wrong, and there was no way he would find Zan and Liz together like that. They’d be talking, or Zan would be training her.
He finally cleared the edge and he felt as if all the air had been knocked from his lungs.
He had a horrible sense of déjà vu, and it was like everything in front of him was happening in slow motion. Zan was cupping Liz’s head with both hands, holding her to him as he kissed her. Liz’s hands were on Zan’s chest, and Max couldn’t tell if she was trying to push him away or not.
Instantly Max’s shock gave way to anger. Just like he’d thought, Zan was trying to take everything that was his.
Max leapt over the edge of the balcony, fury boiling inside him. “What the fuck is going on?” he roared.
Never Underestimate Destiny|
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