Shifted

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Chapter 26

A quick shower and chaotic packing later, I was rushing downstairs towards Emmie’s truck, fighting with the anticipation and unease I felt in regard to seeing my best friend after my little drama stunt a couple of days ago.

Apart from our short meeting yesterday, Emmie and I didn’t exactly talk, which made me equally upset and nervous. I just hoped she would forgive me, and we could bury the hatchet without my freaking out again.

I opened the passenger’s door and jumped in, hiding from the stinging cold that was threatening to freeze my bottom off. Winter was on its way, and in Upton Hill Town, you could almost feel her frosty breath on your neck. It was actually a miracle my parents bought a story about a ‘camping trip’ in such weather with me as a willing participant.

Mr. Bennett must have had a silver tongue or something.

“Hi,” I greeted Emmie awkwardly, fastening the seatbelt and peeking at her from behind my lashes.

She looked knackered. Raven black, greasy hair was sticking out in a tangled mess from under the wrinkled, yellow hoodie she wore, whereas dark blotches shaded her rather dull, chocolate brown eyes.

She yawned, nodded her head in greetings, and started the engine, driving us down the empty lane.

“So, erm, busy night?” I asked, fiddling with the hem of my blue sweater, not sure how I should act around her.

“You have no idea. We were running around in circles like blind dogs on a crack. When we finally thought we had found Keely’s scent, it suddenly disappeared. Poof. Vamoosed,” she explained tiredly, gesturing with one hand for a better effect. “By the way, you can stop being nervous around me. I’m not pissed at you or whatever, and my wolf is starting to get antsy because of you.”

Surprised, I met her open, friendly gaze and breathed a silent sigh of relief. Emmie was sincere, thank heaven.

“Um, look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lashed out at you like that. But when you told me Bennett was my mate,” I said, stumbling on the m-word. “...it was just...”

“...too much, yeah, I get it,” she finished the sentence for me, waving me off. “Nevermind that. Living around werewolves makes you kind of immune to temper tantrums, especially coming from your best friends. You’re not the first irritable wolf I’ve met, and you won’t be the last. My timing was just off. You only met the pack, went through your first scenting, and were suddenly kissed by Zack. No wonder you felt overwhelmed. And then I dumped on you that Zack was your mate... I totally get you freaked out - I know I would in your place. Sometimes I simply forget that you are pretty new to all this,” she grinned at me, elbowing me playfully. “But I’m glad that you’ve decided not to cut me off completely. I’ve missed you.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said, smiling, genuinely happy Emmie wasn’t holding a grudge.

“Anyway, despite the circumstances, it’s nice you’re coming for the weekend. I’ve already told my parents I’m staying over at the pack house, so we can have a girls’ night and catch up!” She sounded excited, and I couldn’t help but grin.

“Actually, about that, why do I really have to go? It’s not like the Alpha wants me to join the search party, right?” I asked, earning a side glance.

“It’s about Zack, really,” she informed me, all serious. “Apart from being the Beta wolf, my cuz is also an enforcer. Uncle H. can’t and certainly won’t leave the pack unprotected and look for Keely, knowing that the psycho gets help from witches. Soooo he wants to send Zack to do it. Zack, on the other hand, refuses to go unless you are here among the wolves, protected. And so the story goes.”

“So Mr. Bennett uses me as leverage,” I mused, frowning.

“Pretty much, yeah. But that’s how things are in our world. However nice the Alphas may seem at first, they are usually cunning, ruthless bastards, literal wolves in sheep clothing, if you get what I mean. And it would do you good if you kept that in mind,” Emmie looked me dead in the eye. “On a happier note, it won’t hurt you to stay with a pack over the weekend and learn a few things,” she grinned.

She was right, though something about what she just said still bothered me.

“You said Zack wouldn’t leave me, but he certainly did disappear on me this morning,” I couldn’t hide the hurt from my voice.

Emmie rolled her eyes.

“Trust you, bloody mates, to only focus on your little love bubble,” She shook her head, and I blushed. She had a point. “My cuz didn’t leave you. He wouldn’t leave you. He was hiding in the bushes in his wolf form, watching the neighborhood until I arrived only because he didn’t want to get you in trouble with your parents. Happy now?”

I couldn’t deny I was, so I didn’t comment on that. Instead, I asked another thing that was on my mind.

“Would you teach me how to fight?”

“No, but I know someone who will,” Emmie gave me a wink.


*

“No way.”

Jackson crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the door frame. Emmie led me to his house right after we arrived at the pack yard, insisting there was no time like the present. At first, I thought she was right, but I started to doubt that when Jackson appeared in the doorway, disheveled and looking as if we only just woke him up.

“Why not?” I asked, cocking my head to the side.

“Maybe because I like my balls where they belong - still attached to my body, Princess,” he deadpanned, squinting his gold-brown eyes at me. With how his hair was poking to the sides, he looked more haggard than usual.

“Oh, don’t be a wuss, Jackson,” Emmie mocked. “You’re the best one to teach her, a judo blackbelt and a sensei.”

I gave the boy a surprised look. I had no idea he had other interests besides football. Yet another thing I was unaware of.

The boy blushed slightly. Huh.

“I’m not a wuss, Emmie. You yourself should know that it ain’t exactly a brilliant idea for me to do anythin' physical with her until she’s marked,” he complained, indicating me with his head.

“Marked?” I parroted, befuddled.

Another rabbit in a hat?

“Yeah, marked. As in bitten by Zacky on the neck to show other single males that you are not available, Princess. Comprende?"

I blanched.

“Jackson!” Emmie protested.

“What? She needs to know such things if we want to avoid a feckin' bloodbath. Zacky is already unhappy about this situation with his old man, and if we...”

“Shut up, or I’ll make you,” Emmie growled as I felt anxiety twisting my insides.

“So you’re saying Zack can get in a fight because of me?” I asked, ignoring my best friend.

“Not sayin' he can, he fuckin' will,” Jackson said in a no-bullshit tone. “Whose idea was that anyway?”

“The Alpha’s,” I informed him.

“But that’s beside the point,” Emmie cut in at the same time that Jackson mumbled something that sounded a lot like cunning and fox. “So are you going to teach her, or should I find somebody else? Maybe Paul will have more balls than you?” Emmie goaded, her eyes taking on a wolf-like glint.

Jackson’s gaze snapped to hers so fast it was humanly impossible. He took a step towards her, puffing his chest like a peacock as a low rumble left his mouth. Emmie growled back, not exactly willing to submit. I felt it was my cue to butt in.

“Now, now, now, easy!” I said, stepping between them and putting my hands up in a calming manner. “Let us all chill, okay? I don’t know who that Paul guy is, but if it’s too much trouble for you, Jackson, we can find somebody else, no problem.”

Jackson clenched his teeth, ripping his eyes away from Emmie and focusing on me instead.

“Be back in five,” was all he rumbled as he turned on his heel and left, shutting the doors behind him with a loud bang.

I exhaled loudly and peeked at Emmie.

“What was that about?” I asked, bewildered.

My friend blinked innocently.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she shrugged, looking away.

“Sure you don’t,” I snarked, shaking my head in disbelief.

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