Saved by Venom (Grabbed 3)(8)

By: Lolita Lopez

Venom cast one final glance at Devious before turning his back. Carefully and without rousing suspicion, he slid his fingers inside the cuff of his jacket and found the thin square now firmly fixed to the fabric liner. He assumed it was a data device of some kind and cautiously pulled it free to move it to a more secure location in one of the inner pockets of his jacket.

The intel secured, he rejoined the group and marched to the flimsy fence and the too-short gate. The security appalled him. When he reached the Valiant, he would let Vicious know how shockingly underprepared The City officials were for a full-scale riot. At the next Grab someone was going to get hurt.

As they filed onto the stage, Venom’s issues with the security were overshadowed by his absolute rage at seeing the way the women chosen for this Grab had been prepared for the run. They huddled together in a small space in a muddy pit a few feet below the stage. Infuriated, he took in their shaking bodies clothed in thin cotton shirts and pants. Only a few of them had on proper shoes. They all looked miserable and frightened.

His heart ached at the pitiful sight before him. Was this how all Grabs were done? He felt sure that wasn’t the case. Vicious or Menace would have told him if their women had been penned in like livestock awaiting slaughter.

This wasn’t right. On other planets, the populaces viewed the Grabs as a way for women to find a good, honorable husband and a comfortable living—but here? Now the screaming protestors outside the fence made sense.

He searched the shivering group of women for one who appealed to him. Choosing a wife on sight wasn’t the most auspicious beginning for a mate bond but it was the only choice he had. He had come this far. He wasn’t going back empty-handed.

The tightly packed group shifted as some of the women turned toward the stage for a better look at the men who would be chasing them very soon. A flash of white-blonde hair caught his eye. He was momentarily taken aback by the pale shade. It wasn’t very common among the Earth-descendants on Calyx but it was the mark of a full-blooded member of the Harcos race like himself.

He zeroed in on the pale hair. The woman it belonged to found her way to the rear of the crowd. She was a tiny little thing, petite like Vee’s Hallie but not as thin. The boxy cut of her bright-red outfit obscured her frame but he could see the faint outline of curves beneath the papery fabric. She wasn’t quite as curvaceous as Menace’s woman but she had a nice shape.

Their gazes clashed across the wide expanse between them. Her eyes widened with shock and she took three quick steps back. Something primal ignited within him at the sight of her fleeing. Like a prowling cat catching the scent of its prey, he had to chase her now.

Her panicked gaze darted from the stage where a member of The City’s council read the official Grab rules and the gate that led to the snowy open field and the forest just beyond it. Fists curled at her sides, she sized him up before taking two quick hops toward the gate.

No doubt she had done the math. There was no way she could evade him. His legs were nearly twice as long as hers and he had on rugged boots. She had on shiny pink shoes that were wholly unsuitable for doing anything outdoors. They looked like the kind of thing a woman would wear with a dress.

He frowned at her lack of preparation and hoped this wasn’t a sign of flightiness. Judging by the state of the other women, it seemed more likely that the officials running the Grab hadn’t properly advised them what to expect. It was yet another issue he would be reporting to the Grab committee aboard the Valiant.

The snap of two blocks of wood slamming together startled him. A man opened the gate and the women rushed out of the pen. The clock started on their short head start. Venom didn’t linger on the stage. He hopped down into the muck and trudged to the gate. A handful of the other soldiers and airmen followed him.

With his gaze fixed on the pale-haired woman, he watched her fight through the ankle-deep snow. His gut soured with worry. He glanced at his watch and read the temperature and windchill before hastily calculating the amount of time she had before suffering from frostbite. He made a quick estimation as to how long the women had been exposed to the elements. The numbers he arrived at didn’t make him happy.

Around him the other men seemed to be doing the same mental calculations. There were grunts of annoyance as the seconds ticked down to their release from the pen. Antsy and on edge, they fidgeted and flexed to release some of the anxiety.

The moment the blocks clapped together again, Venom shoved off the slick, muddy ground and raced onto the field. He tracked the woman he wanted as he sprinted to intercept her. She was in the middle of the pack but seemed terrible at navigating. From what he could tell, she was angling for a section of the woods clear off the course. His lips twitched with amusement. He’d have to make sure to program her personal tablet with a map app for navigating the ship.