I had never run so fast in my entire life - not even while trying to beat other players on the pitch. But when I heard Chloe scream, I pushed myself so hard I thought I was going to spit my lungs through my nose.
Wolf-Bennett flew in front of me, his moves urgent, his posture stiff, anticipating a fight. His dark gray fur shimmered in the silver rays of the moonlight that was sneaking between the branches as his strong legs threw the dirt around every time his paws hit the ground.
I knew I was slowing the wolf down, but he still matched his own pace with mine so that I was only a breath away from him, almost as if he was too scared to leave me behind. I didn’t know whether it pleased me or annoyed me - Chloe’s safety seemed much more important than chivalry.
The wolf rushed into the clearing but then stopped abruptly, nearly sending me flying. I managed to catch myself and avoid the collision with 160 pounds of flesh, only to watch as Jackson emerged from behind the trees, adjusting the grip he had on kicking and screaming Chloe, who was hanging over his arm like a sack of potatoes.
“Stop wiggling, will ya?” Jackson barked at Emmie’s sister, clearly losing patience.
He cocked his head up, finally noticing us, and a shit-eating grin crawled on his face.
Like most of the boys from Bennett’s circle, Jackson was a sight to behold - though he seemed rougher around the edges than the others. He had a mop of untamed reddish-brown hair, a pair of upturned, gold-brown eyes, and a thin, wide mouth marred by a scar that started somewhere above the left side of his upper lip and stretched all the way to his chin. Although he was shorter than Bennett, his body was no less chiseled - something all werewolves apparently had in common.
“You owe me ten bucks, Zacky. Found li’l monkey first.” he boasted...
...and then he yelled while Chloe landed on the grass on all fours with feline grace. She literally threw herself at me and hid behind my leg just as Jackson protested loudly, shaking his forearm for everyone to see:
“That li’l munchkin bit me!”
Chloe - still glued to my leg - stuck her tongue out while the Wolf-Bennett gave out a chuffing cough that sounded suspiciously a lot like a laugh. I looked from Jackson to Bennett back to Jackson again, gaping like a fish, still not really comprehending what was going on.
“Not funny, man,” Mumbled Jackson, as he threw a pair of black tracksuit bottoms straight in the wolf’s face. “At least I didn’t shred my suit this time. You’re lucky I brought a spare pair. And, by the way, you’re disqualified.”
Wolf-Bennett shook the pants off his head onto the ground and rolled his eyes in a very human-like manner. Then he gently picked up the piece of clothing with his teeth and trotted towards the trees, leaving the three of us alone.
Jackson rubbed the bitten place on his forearm as he focused his attention on me.
“What’s up, Princess? How did the sniffin’ go?” He teased, smiling cheekily.
I decided to ignore the part about sniffing.
“Couldn’t you come up with a better monicker?” I asked instead, regarding him cooly.
“Nay, creativity is overrated,” he said as he stretched his arms above his head. I couldn’t not notice the play of his muscles underneath the shirt he was wearing. Catching me checking him out, Jackson winked at me. “Like what you see?” He asked with a cocky grin as I fought back a blush.
But it was Bennett who answered:
“Not sure... I’ve seen better.”
Jackson flipped his friend the bird, and he mouthed something back, however, I stopped paying attention to the banter as my whole focus suddenly narrowed on Emmie’s cousin. Bennett approached us wearing only a pair of tracksuit bottoms, which hung dangerously low on his hips, making the V-line of his ripped abdomen that much more prominent. His chest was bare, while those arms... Any fantasy I had about Bennett’s body until now (not like I had one... ever) didn’t even hold a candle to the real deal.
“Oi, Princess, you’re salivatin',” Jackson observed, sickened, snapping me back to reality.
I jerked my eyes back to Bennett’s face while the blush creeped from my cheeks down to my neck. I cleared my throat peeking through the lowered lashes at Emmie’s cousin. I had to give him that at least he managed to remain serious. Only his eyes betrayed him, twinkling in merriment and barely surpressed smugness.
I quickly faked indignation to cover for my ogling as I blurted out at Bennett:
“Jesus! Do you know what a shirt is?” It came out squeaky even to my ears. “Have some modesty! There’s a little girl here!”
Bennett rose a brow at me.
“And whose fault is that my suit has been ripped to pieces?”
What? Was he actually going to blame me for shifting into a wolf?
“I had everything under control,” I countered, gritting my teeth.
“Right,” Bennett’s voice oozed with sarcasm. “You’re not a fighter, Matthews. Syd would have wiped a floor with you, and she wouldn’t even get winded.”
If he slapped me, it would have hurt less. His lack of confidence in me bothered me more than I wanted to admit. The stinging sensation started prickling my eyes, but I squished it down, focusing all the feelings on fueling my anger instead.
I jammed my finger into Bennett’s chiseled chest just as I sneered:
“I was doing just fine, thank you very much! I had been in enough brawls on the pitch to know how to take care of myself. I didn’t ask you to meddle in and...”
"Oi, lovebirds!” Jackson suddenly cut in. My scalding gaze turned towards him, and he gave me a broad smile - though it seemed a little strained - as he held his hands up placatingly and continued:
“You can rip your throats out for all I care. Hell, I’ll even bring popcorn. But any more of your Beta tantrum crap and the li’l Monkey here will shit her pants...”
He pointed meaningfully towards Chloe, who, indeed, looked like she was about to have a fit.
I deflated, reining my temper in as the fight left me. The wolf-being refused to scare a pup. And, though Chloe was putting up a brave front, it was clear she was short of crying. I sighed and crouched next to her, suddenly feeling bad.
“Sorry, munchkin,” I said, squeezing her hand. That seemed to relax her. “I don’t know yet how to control myself,” I added, my voice all low and conspirational.
It did the trick. Chloe nodded her head as she looked at me all doe-eyed. At least her chin wasn’t wobbling any more.
“Okay, Chloe, go with Jackson,” Bennett ordered, smiling encouragingly at the little imp. ”I’ll help Gemma."
Reluctantly, the girl followed. In a swift move, Jackson placed her on his shoulders and then, giving me one last wink, started to walk in the general direction of the house. I ignored Bennett’s prior indication and followed the pair on my own. Though, follow was a big word. Now that the adrenaline had left me, I could feel my feet hurting - badly - so my walk was rather slow as well as excruciatingly painful and looked more like limping than anything else. But my pride had been wounded enough today, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to show Bennett any more of my weakness. So I gritted my teeth and continued my ordeal, refusing to even look at Emmie’s cousin.
I heard him sigh.
“Matthews, let me help...” he started, exasperated, but, once again, I ignored him.
Well, I shouldn’t have. Without any warning, I was suddenly lifted off the ground - one arm supporting my back, the other my legs. I yelped in surprise as Bennett hugged me to his warm bare chest. His only too familiar masculine scent of resin, musk and sandalwood surrounded me and, for a second, I was speechless. I could only think of how nice it was to be carried like that and how my body fitted to Bennett’s... or how close his lips suddenly appeared. But then I realised I was still actually mad at him, so I started wiggling free.
“Put me down, you dickhead!” I yelled.
Bennett only tightened his hold on me and barked, completely losing his patience as the wolf appeared in his gaze, turning his eyes arctic-blue:
“Enough, Matthews! You can take care of yourself, I get it. But, right now, you can barely walk, and I want to call it a day already. So stop being daft and let me help you, unless you want me to order you."
I clenched my teeth.
"At least let me climb your back," I barked out, conceding.
No one noticed him as he watched her from behind the bushes - his lovely mate, carried by that disgusting Beta wolf. It was unforgivable. The girl was his! The others didn’t survive the change, but she... She was different... She was destined for him, and he was going to show her just that.