Shifted

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Chapter 23

I was oddly at peace for the first time since what felt like forever.

After our heated talk in the car, Bennett invited me to his house, and we stayed in the kitchen, where he explained what would happen during my next shift. He also showed me a breathing technique that was supposedly going to help me relax and brace the change. I didn’t quite believe it, but learning didn’t hurt, and there was a slight chance it would actually come in handy.

Bennett also started to teach me how to use my senses. Apparently, as I wasn’t yet a fully-fledged werewolf, I couldn’t use them to their full potential. Nevertheless, I could and did learn how to recognise emotions and lies only by using my nose. It was kind of fun, honestly speaking.

Thankfully, we managed to avoid any more talk of mates and mating for the rest of the afternoon. I was still trying to wrap the idea around my head, and Bennett seemed to understand that. All in all, he ended up being a perfect gentleman, not even trying to make a move on me, even though we were mostly alone. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or annoyed by his iron-like will.

Anyway, after a busy afternoon, I ended up knackered.

That was why I was currently lying motionless on my bed with arms spread on both sides, looking blindly at the ceiling. And that was how mum found me minutes later on her way to the laundry room.

“Sweety, a package came for you,” she said, knocking lightly on the door and poking her head inside.

I sat up, giving her a puzzled look.

“A package?” I frowned. I was quite sure I hadn’t ordered anything in ages - mostly because I was broke.

“Mhm. I brought it with me, but be a dear and get it yourself. This basket is just awfully heavy,” mum explained, nearly buckling under the weight of a pile of dirty clothes she was holding in a plastic container in front of her.

I came up to her, looking with confusion at the small, rectangular box. It was beautiful, hand-crafted, with all those intricate flower details printed in silver thread. I took it, surprised by its silk-like texture, and turned it around in my hands, noticing a little cardboard with my name written on it in cursive letters. Someone must have gone to real trouble.

Was it Bennett? Was he trying to buy me off or something?

“Do you know who brought it?” I asked mum, glancing up at her questioningly, but she only shook her head.

“It was already sitting on the railing when I came home... That box looks posh, though - someone made an effort here. Do you have a secret admirer or something?” she wiggled her eyebrows, grinning widely.

“Mum!” I complained, earning a laugh.

“Okay, okay, I’ll stop and leave you to it. Just keep your old mum in the loop once you find out what’s inside,” she gave me a wink and then, thankfully, left.

I shook my head, closing the doors behind her. Mum was just impossible sometimes, worse than a hormonal teen.

I walked towards my bed, unwrapping the box on my way. I sniffed it experimentally, but I sensed nothing - not even the usual smell of cardboard. Shrugging, I lifted the lid and peeked inside, shouting as I did so. The box flew up and landed with a silent thud on the floor, spitting its contents around - a red lock of hair and a photo of Keely Anderson; tied, beaten, and passed out on the floor in a cage, lying in the pool of her own blood.

“What the actual fuck...?” I whispered, horrified, feeling suddenly cold.

My body started to shake uncontrollably as I kneeled. With trembling fingers, I picked up the photo and turned it around.

My beautiful Gemma,

Please accept this humble gift as a token of my love. Rest assured that no one will get away with hurting you, and this small present is proof of that.

Always and truly yours forever,

M.

I put a hand on my mouth, feeling bile rising in my throat, and rushed to the toilet. Hastily, I opened the tap with cold water, splashed my wrists, trying to fight off the sickness. Not that it helped. A minute later, the dinner I had had not so long ago forced its way out.

Heaving loudly, I closed my eyes as the world started spinning around me. I placed my sticky forehead on a cold toilet bowl, trying to collect myself while the wolf howled its rage and unease at the back of my head.

Whoever sent the letter must have been Stacy’s killer. And he was stalking me.

The thought made me sick again, but I managed to keep it together this time. On trembling legs, I went back to the room, then looked outside the window apprehensively. I didn’t see anyone - thank fuck. I drew curtains close in case that psycho was observing me. I knew he had if he saw what happened in school and thought it was appropriate to hurt Keely for how she acted during a break. The worst thing was, he thought it would please me...

Oh, God.

I needed to call Bennett and tell him about it. I had to tell the pack about Keely.

I ran to my bedside table and picked up my phone. Shakily, I went through the address book, only just realising I hadn’t added Bennet to contacts. Shit, shit, shit! Emmie then.

But before I had a chance to dial the number, my phone started to ring, startling me. I almost dropped the bloody thing but caught it before it hit the ground. I clicked the receive button.

“Matthews, what’s wrong?” Bennett sounded out of breath as if he was running or working out.

“Zack...” I said, relieved, some of my anxiety melting away just because I heard his voice. “How did you know...?” I started, but he cut me off.

“Mate bond. Why’re you anxious?”

I gulped, closing my eyes, and told him about the “gift”.


*

“That sick motherfucking psychotic son of a bitch,” Growled Jackson, looking at the photo, his wolf close to the surface. He, Bennett, and Emmie came not even ten minutes ago, all in their wolf forms. I let them in through the back doors to the garage, where I handed them “the present”.

Jackson sniffed it once again, shaking his head in frustration as he handed the evidence to Emmie.

“Nothing. You?”

Emmie placed the box under her nose.

“You received it... when exactly?” She inquired, closing her eyes, knitting her brows together as she focused.

“I don’t know. Mum picked it up on her way from work. She said it was already sitting on the railing,” I sighed, raking both hands through my hair and pacing anxiously by my parents’ car.

Bennett suddenly came behind me and pulled me towards him. I bumped my back into his hard chiseled chest, and he locked me between his arms. As his familiar scent surrounded me, the wolf-being relaxed, feeling safer in his embrace. Bennett put his nose in my hair, sniffing me. I didn’t try to pull away this time.

“Don’t worry, we’ll find him,” he murmured in my head. I would even say he was surprisingly collected in light of all that happened to Keely and his, well, mate. That is unless I didn’t look in his eyes - fully wolf-like, predatory, and murderous. Very, very murderous. “Emmie?”

“I can’t sense anything. That sicko must have used witchcraft, just like your dad assumed. It looks like he has wiped out all the smells,” she huffed, irritated.

“Wait? Witchcraft? Is that even possible? Don’t tell me witches are real...”

“As real as it gets, Princess,” Jackson answered gloomily.

“But that’s a talk for later,” Bennett cut in, shutting another question that was about to leave my mouth. “Emmie, take the evidence to my dad, I’ll brief him on your way. Jackson, see what you can find around the house. If anything, howl.”

Jackson nodded his head then wasted no time to shift in front of us. The clothes exploded around him in shreds, messing the floor. Emmie changed a second later, showering us in scraps as well. Then, they both took off.

“Can I borrow your phone?” Bennett asked unexpectedly. I turned around and gave him a bewildered look.

“Why do you need my phone? Don’t you have, like, werewolf telepathy or something?”

Zack smiled humourlessly.

“Nah, Matthews, that’s TV shows. There is no such thing as ’werewolf telepathy’ within pack members. Though, on the second thought, you could find a few instances of mates who are able to speak in each other minds but, usually, after they fully bond,” he explained as I handed him my phone.

I halted, feeling that I was actually about to walk on a landmine but ready to take the step anyway.

“Fully bond? How?”

“Obviously, by having sex, Gemma,” Bennett deadpanned, giving me a look. I felt a treacherous blush creeping on my cheeks and glanced away from his heated gaze. It was full of promises and something I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready for. “Any more questions? As much as explaining to you how bonding works sounds fun, I need to make this call,” he teased. “Although, we can talk about mating later if...”

“No, thanks!” I blurted out quickly, panicked, pushing my phone in his hands.

He only smirked and finally hit the call button. His dad answered after a second impulse, and Bennett briefed him, all business-like. I tried not to be privy to their conversation, however, that proved to be pretty difficult with my new hearing skills. I caught a few words that were bothering me a bit, but before I could address them, Bennett hung up without saying goodbye and looked me dead in the eye.

“That’s done, so we have one last pressing thing to discuss, Matthews. Either you’re coming with me to the pack house, or I’m staying here for the night.”

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