When they reached Dervinias’s little house, Michael pulled the stolen jeep in front. Venus jumped out and tried to run. It was more of a jog. When she got to the door, she held her breath and pushed it open.

“Zaren!”

Michael followed her in. Faster than lightning Zaren appeared next to her. Strong arms wrapped around her tightly. She rested her cheek against his chest. He felt so good, she wanted to cry. Lemon and a hint of sweat filled her nose.

“Zaren, did you talk to them?”

He grabbed her by the shoulders and held her at arm’s length. Searching for some indication of trauma, Venus guessed. After a moment, he glared at Michael, his anger thick. He released her and lunged at Michael, shoving the palm of one hand into the boy’s chest. She knew he’d held back, since a real hit would’ve killed him. Michael sailed backward, his head smacking the wall, before crumbling to the floor with a moan.

Venus glared at Zaren, rushing to Michael. “Are you okay?”

“He shouldn’t be. I should kill him for what he did.”

Venus peered back and noticed his hands were clenched into fists, the muscles in his jaw grinding. 

“Zaren, he helped me escape. Without him, I’d still be in that cell.”

“You were taken in the first place because of him! It’s all I can do to control my desire to kill him.” He paused, shaking his head, like he was trying to get the images he saw in her mind, out. “And I would’ve found you.”

He didn’t sound convinced. She must’ve been too far away. “Of course,” she said softly, squeezing his hand.

He grunted as he crouched next to her, and grabbed the collar of Michael’s shirt in a fisted hand, twisting and lifting. “If you’d allowed them to finish. If you hadn’t helped her . . . I! I—!”

“I know, man. I know.” 

Zaren relaxed the grip on his shirt and shoved his palm into Michael’s forehead so his head smacked against the wall.

“Cret, Zaren. Seriously!” Michael made a mistake. She appreciated that he was trying to repair his wrongs. The way he’d felt was understandable. Given the circumstances she might’ve reacted the same way. Venus had said things . . . treated his mother without respect. He’d been dealing with a lot.

She and Michael were like two ends of the same string. And the longer they stayed attached, the stronger their connection grew. Their bond allowed her to experience his pain—emotionally and physically. Right now both were affecting him, in a terrible way.

 “Zaren, help me get him over to the sofa,” she huffed. 

Zaren sighed. “Yes, Princess.” He stuck a hand under Michael’s arm and hoisted him over his shoulder.

“This isn’t necessary. Put me down.”

Zaren shifted him on his shoulder and Michael groaned.

“Fine.”

Once they reached the living room, Venus pushed the remote and some newspapers out of the way. Zaren flung Michael onto the sofa.

“Easy, Bluto.”

“Don’t push me, runt.”

Venus patted Zaren on the chest. “Go get some ice, would you?”  

When Zaren left, she moved Michael’s hair off his forehead. “I didn’t mean for that to happen. Please be okay.” She ran her fingers through his hair. Touching him, their closeness, she didn’t want to stop. 

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