Around ten, Michael and Cheverly decided to call it a night. They’d already returned their horses to the barn and Venus, Zaren and Dervinias had gone. It made it easier for Michael to focus on Chev. She walked him to Red, his hand in hers. 

“Can you forgive me, Michael?” she asked tenderly.

 He loved her upturned nose. The way her glistening lips called to him in the moonlight. Her dancing eyes surrounded by curly lashes. She looked incredible. It wasn’t even hard to bend and brush his lips against hers. They tasted of toasted marshmallow and hot chocolate. 

She smiled into his lips. “Is that a yes?”

In response, Michael kissed her harder, clutching her shoulders. He made every effort to block out images of Venus. Their almost kiss, the feel of her body against his. The strange, scary, weird pictures that’d entered his mind when their lips touched. He resisted a shudder at the memory of Venus on the ground heaving blood this afternoon.

What’s the matter with her? Who is she?

Shaking off the questions, he worked harder to focus on Chev. She’d reached her hands under his shirt, and her hands wandered. The girl knew how to arouse him. Despite that, he gently pushed her away and searched her face for answers she wouldn’t possess.

“Oh, Michael, I love you.” She touched his face. Brushed away some hair that’d fallen into his eyes. 

Michael watched the words leave her mouth, heard the lilt of longing. Her eyes sought assurance, and her body language begged a response.

Why not?

“I love you, too, Chev.” His voice hadn’t cracked. The words didn’t come out weird. He’d sounded sincere. Michael did . . . love her, care for her. She was kind and gorgeous, a perfect combination.

Tears filled her eyes. One ran down a cheek.

He caught it, wiped it away. “Are you okay?”

“Yes. Very okay.” She hugged him, pressing her face into his chest. Michael hugged her back, knowing he should feel happier. Feel more. Instead, he felt anxiety, like he’d swallowed a large rock.

Michael didn’t think it had anything to do with Chev. He kissed the top of her head. The smell of her shampoo—jasmine—filled his nose. No, he didn’t think so. Wherever their relationship led them, Michael believed she loved him.

Is that what you want?

“Michael?”

“I should go. Do you want to get together tomorrow?” He opened the door, climbed in.

“Yeah?”

A question hung on her lips, but the boulder in his stomach seemed to be growing. He had to go. Now.

“I’ll call you. Promise.” Michael started the car, closed the door and left. The closer he got to home, the larger the stone became. Something was wrong.

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