Vessel

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Eight

Right away, she knows this is a stranger. This isn’t someone pulling a prank. This isn’t someone she knows. This is a predator and she’s in danger. It’s especially obvious when she’s harshly yanked back into a firm chest.

She doesn’t have time to dwell on the fact that she could’ve been better prepared if she had the proper hearing and sense of smell everyone else does because this person is dragging her backward. She cries out against his hand in distress and tries to fight him off but he’s too strong for her. She has no choice but to be dragged deeper into the woods and away from her home.

She doesn’t stop trying to scream, though, and her attacker doesn’t like that. Suddenly, she sees a knife appear in front of her and she widens her eyes. When it comes right at her, she puts up more of a fight than she has been and stops his arm. The tip of the knife is just a few centimetres from piercing her left cheek and their strength clashes, not allowing it to move much.

“Quia caritas Dei,” the man grits.

She whimpers and feels tears run down her cheeks and onto his hand, which she now realizes is gloved. She also realizes that this man may not be a werewolf. No one knows for sure who’s been taking the girls, but if her attacker was a wolf he definitely would have shifted by now to gain the upper hand.

Her arm’s getting tired from holding him off and her heels are still dragging through the dirt as he tries to continue pulling her away. She’s afraid to fight too much that she’s stabbed in the face so she focuses more on keeping the weapon away from her. She will not be another girl who never returns home or who’s found with no memory of the incident. She’s getting out of this.

She pushes the panic as far down as she can and thinks about her options. The best thing to do would be to scream. But she can do something else instead and her clearer mind allows her to remember it.

She recalls the names of the wolves she knows are patrolling the perimeter and focuses on their faces while continuing to fight against the knife coming for her cheek and the force dragging her backward. This is Joey Bennett! I’m in the forest about two or three kilometres from the pack! There’s a man pulling me away and he’s got a knife on me! I’m fighting as hard as I can!

We’re coming! She doesn’t recognize the voice but the haste calms her in the slightest.

ANDREW! Andrew I’m being dragged through the forest and I called the patrols they’re on their way but I can’t get him to stop moving–

Then she hears possibly the loudest growl she’s ever heard. And not because she suddenly has werewolf hearing, no. But because whoever it is is just that loud. It’s a terrifying cry, but the protection she feels after hearing it is no doubt from Andrew. He’s coming for her.

She hopes to the Moon Goddess he and the patrols she called come in numbers to overpower her attacker, but then in a lucky moment she feels his body freeze. She assumes it’s because of Andrew’s growl, but whatever the cause she takes advantage. She beats down on the arm holding the knife to her and he drops it. She’s able to slip out of his arms but the shock of it all has turned her legs numb so she falls right to the floor. She turns over just as he grabs the knife off the ground, stares up at the man to get a good look and engrave him in her memory, and then screams at the top of her lungs.

Most of his face is hidden by a black balaclava but his brown eyes widen and instead of attacking her again, he takes off in a run she thinks is too fast to be human. She continues screaming even after he’s gone and keeps it up when her throat goes raw. When she feels hands on her she screams even louder until she sees Evan, a guard she knows is on border duty.

She doesn’t care that she barely knows him and, frankly, she doesn’t care that he’s naked after shifting. She just throws herself at his crouched form and clings to him for dear life. She made it. She’s not dead. She hasn’t been kidnapped. She fought that man off and she’s still in her pack with her pack mates and Andrew’s on his way.

“Joey, where’d he go, where is he?”

She doesn’t know who’s asking, but she points a shaky finger in the direction she saw him flee and five wolves are shifting mid-sprint. The next thing she hears are heavy and rhythmic thumps coming from her left – from the direction of the pack. Her breathing picks up as she feels panic come back to her, but it’s not her own.

She unhooks her chin from Evan’s shoulder and turns to look at where the sound is coming from. Not two seconds later, Andrew’s dark brown wolf appears with his eyes set on her. Flanking him are the Alpha, Luna, Beta, and Dina’s older brother and future Beta, Tyler. Andrew growls again but not as loud, and Evan immediately lets go of her only for her now shifted mate to grab her instead.

She breathes a huge sigh of relief and cries into his neck as he barks orders at whoever else is with Evan. More heavy pounding, and then just Andrew’s heavy breathing. Luna Rita is still in wolf form and rounds her and Andrew to stand protectively in front of them with her eyes on the forest where the attacker and several guards disappeared.

As she’s crying, she can feel the anger radiating off of Andrew as he holds her protectively. This may give them away, but she can’t give a single damn after almost being taken or killed. This is exactly where she wants – where she needs – to be.

“Andrew, let her go,” Alpha Charles orders. “Her family’s coming.”

Andrew doesn’t speak and Joey instinctively pulls him closer. His warm, bare skin is immensely comforting and she never wants to leave him arms.

“Andrew, now.”

Even Joey feels like she’s been burnt by the Alpha command, and she whimpers when Andrew’s forced to leave her because of the tone his father chose to take. Andrew’s not the Alpha yet, he can’t disobey the Alpha command.

He lets go of her but he stays close, crouched beside her and not moving his eyes from her face, her chest, her abdomen, her legs – anywhere she may be injured.

“JOEY!”

She jumps and turns, her hands hitting the cold and damp leaves she’s resting on. Her parents and Valerie have sprinted in human form all the way from their house. Her father gets to her first and he slots himself right between her and Andrew. Joey worries that her mate will act out and hurt him, but instead he stands and clenches his jaw while he makes room for the Bennetts.

Her mother nearly crashes into Robert and Valerie appears on her other side, all three of them grabbing her and huddling around her protectively, babbling rushed and panicked nonsense. Joey starts sobbing and can barely communicate to them what happened and that she’s fine.

“Let’s get Joey home,” Alpha Charles says from behind her crouched father, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Will someone let the Montgomerys know she’s alright?”

Luna Rita barks and leaves her spot by Joey to run back through the forest the way they came. Alpha Charles turns to the Betas, still in wolf form as well. “We need to follow up with the guards who went after him and let Gamma Aleks know what happened.”

Beta Jeremy faces his son and uses his head to gesture toward the pack. Tyler turns and sprints back while the Beta takes off in the direction the guards went.

“Andrew, you should go with Jeremy.”

“No,” Joey’s heart flutters at his rejection. “We’ll get them home. You take the front, I’ll come up behind.”

And then he’s a wolf again. Alpha Charles sighs and faces the family. “We’ll keep our eyes peeled on the way back and then we’ll need to get some information from Joey.”

No one directly responds to his words, her family just helps get her on her feet before Robert lifts her completely and they start their journey. Valerie tightly grasps one of her ankles and Jessica holds tight to her backpack. Alpha Charles shifts and walks ahead of them, his head swinging and eyes deadly. Joey wraps her arms around her father’s neck and uses her position to stare right at Andrew who’s following behind them.

I didn’t mean to walk home by myself. I was distracted and I forgot to meet Harper. I’m sorry, I know the rules–

Joey, I’m feeling many things right now, but anger toward you is not one of them. I... Damn it, hold on.

Joey watches his orange eyes blink a few times before shaking out his fur. She hears her sister hiccup and looks over to see her shake her head to herself. When she looks back at Andrew, his eyes are on the back of her sister’s head. Oh.

Tell me what happened, Andrew says.

Is Valerie talking to you?

Don’t worry about that, just tell me what happened. Tell me anything so I can hear your voice and not want to run over and take you away from your dad.

A tear falls from her eye, because she wants him to do just that. The comfort she felt when he arrived and grabbed her was short lived and she needs it again. I couldn’t hear him or smell him. Not even a little bit. There was just suddenly a hand on my mouth and someone was trying to drag me away. Then he pulled a knife out and he said something in a language I couldn’t recognize, and then your growl scared him enough that I could get away and scream. He was wearing all black with a black balaclava and he had brown eyes. That’s all I could see.

You did good, Jo, you fought him off. I’m so proud of you, and I’m so relieved you’re okay.

She knows he’s telling the truth, but there’s an edge in his voice that she knows is there because it should be him holding her right now.

When they make it back to their house, they take her upstairs to her room and tuck her into her bed. They take her jacket, her scarf, and her shoes and let her get comfortable while they all crowd around. Robert has grabbed a couple pairs of sweatpants for Alpha Charles and Andrew, so they stand shirtless and regal behind her family who kneel by her bed. They’re like a barrier between Joey and Andrew, and she can see that he could handle it at first but now he looks extremely agitated. No one notices but her.

He fidgets while she tells everyone what she told him on the way back, also explaining why she was in the forest alone in the first place. She leaves out any thoughts of Andrew she was having at the time. She tells them how the man attacked her and how she got away and what she saw of him. All while all three of her family members grip her left hand.

When she’s explained everything she can, Alpha Charles nods. “Get some rest. I’m very grateful you’re okay. We’ll give you some privacy. Andrew?”

“I’m gonna stay,” he says quickly, jaw clenched.

Joey bites her tongue when Valerie reaches back for his hand and gives him a grateful but teary smile. Alpha Charles nods and leaves.

When all three Bennetts’ eyes are on her, her eyes are on Andrew. His hand is still in Valerie’s but his intense gaze is on Joey. His eyes are switching from green to orange repeatedly and Joey knows this could very well be the moment her family finds out. Andrew can barely control himself and stay behind the living barrier between them, and an Alpha can’t be expected to hold back when it comes to their mate.

“Are you hurt?” Her mother asks. “Can I get you anything?”

“I’m fine,” Joey sniffles, her heart still racing a bit. She sees Andrew’s head tick involuntarily.

“I should’ve gone with you today,” Valerie says.

“It’s not your fault.” This time, she sees Andrew grit his elongated teeth. Her heart speeds up.

Joey, if they don’t get out of my way I’m going to explode.

His eyes are completely orange now, no more flicking to green. They can’t hide it anymore. She stares at him in desperation, not knowing what to do or how to do it. His chest heaves in what’s obviously a feeble attempt to stay calm and she knows it’s going to come out any second now.

When she closes her eyes and exhales, she just accepts it.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, Valerie,” Andrew says calmly but in a much rougher voice than usual. “I need you all to step away from Joey.”

All three of them turn their heads in confusion. Jessica speaks up. “What?”

Andrew’s orange eyes catch Joey’s. Permission. She takes one more deep breath before nodding her head, and then he straightens his body and looks back at her family.

“Because if I’m this far away from my mate for another second I’m afraid I’m going to have to move you myself.”

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xx

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