Bennetts’ lodge house was lit from inside like a Christmas tree and decorated as such.
Already a pretty huge parking lot was filled with a vast amount of cars, though I knew there were many more people indoors than the numbers of vehicles suggested since I had been spying on the guests through the floor-to-ceiling windows from my spot by Emmie’s truck, feeling all kinds of overwhelmed.
I exhaled loudly, trying for calmness I didn’t exude. The nerves were eating my insides while the wolf-being lingered too close to the surface for comfort. It was a miracle my nails hadn’t yet enlarged, and my gums hadn’t itched - which was a sure sign of the shift that shouldn’t be happening until the next full moon.
“Ready?” Emmie stopped beside me with an encouraging smile.
She was wearing a rust coloured fitted dress that hugged every curve of her body, and ballet flats. She looked stunning and was aware of it. The self-confidence I lacked beamed from her in steady waves, soothing me as well as the wolf-being.
I smiled, but a grimace contorted my face instead.
“Let’s just get it done and over with,” I sighed.
I started my slow descend towards imminent demise on trembling legs. Emmie precautiously laced her arm through mine, once again supporting me while I gave her another grateful look. At least now I didn’t have to worry that I would stumble in the high-heels I was wearing and ruin my chiffon v-neck, royal blue dress with a longer back by planting myself face down on the pavement.
I felt like an idiot for walking into Bennett’s trap like that.
“You look great,” My friend must have sensed the tension that was radiating off me.
“Do you always dress up for such gatherings?” I asked as a way of distraction before I drove myself crazy from all the nerves building up inside me.
“It depends,” she half-answered, leading me to the double, dark wood doors.
Emmie gave me a cheeky smile that lit her dark brown eyes.
“On who’s joining the pack,” she said with a wink.
“What does that mean?” I inquired, but she opened the door, leaving my question unanswered.
Various fragrances assaulted my sensitive nose. The fresh smell of rain and resin that I already assimilated with Upton Hill Town werewolves, mixed with individual scents of each member of the pack as well as the pervasive aroma of cooked food, overloaded me and made me dizzy.
I blinked ferociously, fighting a sneeze while Emmie led us towards the enormous living room. My pulse immediately picked up as anxiety made my stomach queasy, and the wolf-being once again started to pace back and forth. Emmie squeezed my hand while she manoeuvred me towards Bennett’s parents, who were chatting with an older pair in the middle of the room. Thank God, there was no silence as we made our presence known - no one stopped talking or doing whatever they had been doing only to gawk at us, making it that much more bearable. Although, I still felt curious glances.
Feeling brave, I sneaked a peek. My gaze drifted from family to family, and I soon realised I knew most of the people here - if only by sight. I was actually shocked that so many of my neighbours were werewolves, and none was the wiser. My eyes crossed with a pair of hazel irises of Jodie, who worked as a waitress in The Steak Bar, and she waved at me, smiling widely, although, was quick to avert her gaze and incline her head, showing a bit of her throat. For some weird reason, her reaction pleased me, but left me thoroughly confused as well.
Was it some kind of weird custom here?
I never had a chance to dwell on the thought, though. I felt the urgent need to dismiss the girl and skim the crowd looking for what - I wasn’t sure. I only understood why I felt so frantic when I spotted the very person I didn’t necessarily want to acknowledge, especially after my little stunt on the stands - Emmie’s cousin. My eyes didn’t have such a dilemma, though. They located Bennett’s cyan blue ones and paused, admiring a playful twinkle that appeared in them and a lazy smile that slowly curved one side of his mouth. Then, they began to check him out - hovering over his broad shoulders and taut muscles hiding behind his white shirt and the dark blue suit. My mind started to conjure various images, strictly connected to said shoulders and muscles, and I felt myself blush. My heart sprang to life, jumping its happy dance in my chest and probably trying to plunge through the ribcage.
It was getting ridiculous.
As I was on a sure way to win the Oscar for making a further fool of myself by gravitating towards Bennett as if under a spell, I caught a movement with my peripheral vision.
Sydney Brooks made her appearance.
I had to begrudgingly admit she looked regal in the long pink turtle-neck dress and the side french braid that cascaded down her left arm. The make-up she wore made her baby blue eyes pop and her lips plump.
She stopped next to Bennett, laced her arm through his, and placed herself in such a way that if he wanted, Bennett would have an unobstructed view of her cleavage through the heart-shaped cutout.
Sudden rage flared within me as I fisted my hands, throwing the smirking girl a scalding look. I was beyond livid.
How dared she?
I sensed rather than saw Emmie stirring warily next to me. She placed her hand on my shoulder, but it didn’t calm me down as it had most of the time. I still wanted to tear Sydney’s hair out of her head, literally. It didn’t even help that Bennett stepped away from that sly fox when he noticed my reaction.
Surprisingly, the rescue party came in the shape of a childish voice.
“Hello,” it said.
I made myself rip my gaze away from Bennett and Sydney, and look at a little girl in front of me. She was around seven - if my guess was correct - and reminded me an awful lot of Emmie. She watched me with an open curiosity of a child who found herself a new object of fascination. Her green irises flecked with tiny specks of yellow while scrutinizing me as if I was a particularly interesting type of bug. I knew who the girl was because I remembered her from pictures. I also heard many, many stories about the little imp I had never actually met in person. Well, until now.
Emmie’s younger sister.
“I’m Chloe. Is your name Gemma? You smell like Beta Zack. Are you his ma...”
Emmie’s hand suddenly slapped Chloe’s mouth shut as she threw the little girl a scalding look. I watched with confusion my best friend bend so that she was on eye level with her sister and hiss:
“What did I tell you at home?”
“Not to talk about m...” Chloe mumbled through Emmie’s hand but was, again, stopped.
“Right, exactly,” Emmie cut in, not letting her sister finish. “So quit blabbering, unless you want dad to find out that you lost his favourite CD...”
“No! I won’t say anything. Please, don’t tell dad!” She whisper-yelled, looking around all panicked.
“I won’t if you won’t,” Emmie blackmailed, and the girl gulped.
“I promise,” the girl stated, serious. “But she smells like...”
“Scram!” My friend ordered, losing patience. Chloe pouted but followed, throwing me one last puzzled look.
Emmie’s exhaled with relief and stood upright.
“What was that about?” I asked, frowning.
“Just my little sister, running her mouth as usual,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief.
“Mind telling me what a Beta is?” I inquired, trying not to notice how Sydney laughed pearly next to Bennett. At least she wasn’t groping his arm anymore.
“Do you remember what I told you about the Alpha pair?” I nodded my head in agreement. “Well, Alphas lead the pack while Betas are second-in-command, usually, but not necessarily, the offsprings of said Alphas.” she surmised.
“So, you’re telling me that Bennett is second-in-command?” I couldn’t hide my shock. Emmie just shrugged like it was the most natural thing in the world. I guessed it was for her. “But he is, like, seventeen!”
“He turned eighteen a month ago. Plus, it’s a bit different in our world,” Emmie said, unfazed.
Just as I was about to ask her how different, Mrs. Bennett approached us.
“Gemma, sweetheart, I’m happy that you could come at such short notice,” she stated, genuinely, as she embraced me in a vice-like grip. Funnily enough, her openness and acceptance calmed me enough that I felt the wolf-being relax.
Mr. Bennett arrived next. His forest green eyes were as intense as I remembered, but his smile was honest as he outstretched his calloused hand. I shook it and returned a smile of my own.
“Gemma, we’re so glad you could join us,” he announced, and he meant it.
Maybe coming here wasn’t such a bad idea after all?
“Thank you, sir,” I said as Emmie’s cousin approached us.
“Hello Matthews,” he greeted me and bent a little, almost giving me a heart attack when he whispered in my ear:
“You look stunning.”
I gave him a confused look while a traitorous blush coloured my cheeks red. I knew that since the bloody party at Azure Like the dynamics between us started to change, but I never thought he would get interested. And he was clearly flirting with me. In front of his parents.
Kill me now.
Before I could overthink it too much, Mr. Bennett said:
“Alright everyone. I think it’s about time to do what we actually came here for...” He turned towards me with a predatory yet somehow boyish smile. “Gemma Matthews, we welcome you in our pack.”