A rough jolt woke me out of my unconscious state, seeing nothing but darkness. Something had been placed over my head while I was out cold. A rancid smelling sack or muslin cloth, I wasn’t sure. My hands were bound behind my back and my mouth was covered with tape so that I couldn’t call out. A light breeze cooled my skin and the sound of rustling trees could be heard all around me.
“Get up,” a harsh, abrasive voice ordered, giving away that my captor was male. “Start walking.” Terror flooded my veins, fearing for my life at this moment.
A feminine whimper nearby, told me that Emma was close, most likely bound and gagged like I was. I didn’t have a clue where we’d been taken, or who by. The moments prior to me losing consciousness faded from my memory in a blur. Pain throbbed behind my ears, accompanied by the sensation of being drunk and disoriented. No doubt a side effect to whatever chemicals they used to knock me out with. If I were to be sick, I’d have no way of spitting it out.
“I’ll take them deeper into the woodland. You stay here and wait for my father.” The voice I recognized belonged to Chris, and my legs almost gave out beneath me.
“I’m keeping this,” the first guy spoke again. Now that he wasn’t yelling, I recognized that it was Sean. “It kept going off in her pocket.”
Fuck... He must’ve been talking about my mobile phone. Sam would be blowing it up like crazy right now. He could sense things through the bond and would know something was wrong.
“Just don’t answer it,” the asshole, Chris warned. “It’s probably lover boy.”
“I thought we wanted him to come? Your dad said...” Sean sounded confused.
“Not yet!” Chris replied, annoyed. I felt a forceful nudge in the small of my back. “I said walk!”
Emma sobbed, bumping shoulders with me as we were both forced forward, blinded to our surroundings and unable to communicate. We were terrified, tripping and stumbling over uneven ground. There was a thud beside me, followed by Emma screaming in hysterics. She must’ve fallen and was being dragged to her feet by her hair. I stopped, feeling a surge of anger rage through me. I struggled against my binds, feeling something sharp bite into my skin. “Keep moving.” Chris pushed me roughly.
I felt Emma bump into me, whimpering and trying to speak through her taped mouth. No longer than a minute passed before Chris spoke again, “Stop here.” He pulled on my shoulder and I jerked away, not wanting his hands on me. The only time I’d allow physical contact would be when my hands wrapped around his throat, the bastard.
He ripped the covering from over my head, then Emma’s, pulling out strands of our hair by the root. It was dark outside, although I had no concept of the time. My eyes blazed fierce, glaring at him through burning tears. My eyes flicked to where Emma’s wrists were bound, noticing he’d used a thick plastic zip tie.
Chris faced me head on, looking me dead in the eyes. I glowered back at him, defiant, hoping that he saw how much fucking hate seeped through them.
“Helen.” He cocked his head to one side as if pitying me. “It's nothing personal sweetheart. Believe it or not, I only have your best interests at heart.” His lips pressed together as he gripped my jaw and forcefully turned my head to the side, revealing Sam’s mating mark. Hot tears rolled down my eyes as I locked eyes with Emma. Her body shook with petrified tremors, scared shitless about what he was going to do to us.
“Shit,” Chris hissed, squeezing my jaw, then letting go of me with a push. “You stupid bitch!” He spat. “You let one of them bite you. Do you know what that means?” He asked, anger radiating from him in waves. I shook my head, playing dumb. His face contorted with disgust as he spoke, “It means you’re joined to him now,” he told me what I already knew. It also confirmed what we suspected about Chris and Sean. They knew about shifters and if they were hunters, we really were in deep trouble. “And that means you might not survive when I kill him.” My eyes rounded wide with shock.
With one hand, he held the back of my head and with the other, he gripped the edge of the tape. Then without mercy, he ripped it from my lips in one brutal swoop. “Ahh,” I cried out in anguish.
Emma sobbed, begging with her eyes for him not to hurt me. “You know, I had hope for us,” Chris told me, his words held some twisted bitterness as if all his plans had been destroyed. “Did he take you forcefully?” He asked as an afterthought, eyeing me with scrutiny.
Panic splattered my face as I glanced to Emma. How was I supposed to answer? If I said yes, I’d be betraying Sam to save our skins. If I said no, who’s to say Chris wouldn’t just murder me anyway. Emma’s face crumpled with sadness. “Why do you care?” I answered finally. “It's me you want, not Emma, let her go.”
Chris let out a maniacal laugh. “So she can go back to the dorms and call the police... I don’t think so.” His last phrase was drenched in sarcasm. “You still didn’t answer my question,” he pressed, not letting it go.
“No.” I remained loyal. “I gave my consent.” I jerked my head toward Emma. “She doesn’t know anything about them, so just let her go,” I urged, turning to throw eye signals to her. Emma’s chest rose and fell with uneven heaves.
Chris massaged his forehead, scrunching his face as if pained. A split second reaction saw him reaching for a handgun he had tucked into the waistband of his jeans. Time slowed down before my eyes as he pointed it straight at Emma. “Sorry, no can do.” He shrugged, just as I screamed. “No!”
A loud reverberating gunshot rang throughout the woodland, sending bats pouring from the trees in a swarm.
Blinded by panic, a white mist formed in front of my eyes and a high pitched ringing filled my ears. Chris dropped to his knees while clutching his stomach, then slumped to the ground. His face flooded with shock then relaxed, motionless. Emma let go of her emotions, crying freely. I whipped around wide-eyed and saw a shaken Brittany, lowering a shotgun. “Brittany!” I called out to her, witnessing her flinch.
“Is he dead? Have I killed him?” Brittany whimpered, shaking from head to toe. The wind rustled through the trees, forming the background noise of the woodland. The last few bat's fluttered away into the night sky. “Brittany, look at me.” I tried to drag her attention away from him. “We need to call the police.”
She nodded, placing a hand against her chest. “Oh my God,” she muttered, chanting it over and over.”
Emma gave a muffled cry. “Untie us,” I begged. “Quick, before Sean comes.”
Brittany hiccoughed. “Well, the last time I saw him his nose was pressed flat against my windshield,” she confessed.
“You ran him over?” I asked, turning so that she could pick at the plastic with her car key. After several forceful plucks, the zip tie broke apart. She hurried to Emma while I eased the tape from her mouth. Emma’s hands were freed and she removed the rest of the tape herself. “Thank you.” She pulled Brittany into a bone-crushing hug. “I pissed my pants.”
“I’m a murderer,” Brittany sobbed. “But he was gonna kill you, what was I supposed to do?”
“Is Sean alive?” I asked. She nodded in response.
“I think so.” Brittany’s face crumpled with tears. “It was an accident. I got out of the car to see if he was OK and that’s when I saw the gun and grabbed it. I knew something was wrong when you guys didn’t show for your own movie night. I couldn’t find Chris, and that’s when I took a drive down here and ran down Sean. It was dark and he came out of nowhere. I can’t believe Chris was gonna actually shoot you... for real. We should probably call the cops now,” her fragile voice quivered.
“Oh my God, I’ve killed someone... I’m so going to jail.” She burst into tears. I took the rifle from her, just as she was about to let it fall to the floor.
Emma looked to me in desperation. “I’m scared.”
Movement from where Chris lay, caught my eye. “Hey.” I alerted the others, witnessing his body twitch. “He’s coming round,” I called out, limping over to pick up his gun then backed away from him. My eyes scanned his stomach for any sign of a shot wound. The lack of blood was alarming. “He’s wearing a bulletproof vest.” My own surprise came out like a warning. “We need to leave.”
“Wait, I didn’t hit him?” Brittany immediately stopped crying and walked over to where he lay, looking down at him in disgust. If I wasn’t mistaken I’d say she looked disappointed. We all screamed as Chris made a sudden move, reaching for something silver that was tucked into his sock. In a sheer split-second reaction, Brittany flapped about hysterical, kicking him straight in the crotch with full force. “Bastard!” She screamed.
Chris’s scream tore into the night, “Bitch! Argh! I’m gonna....I’m gonna fucking kill you...Argh! Sean!” He struggled to call out through anguished cries. As much as he wanted to reach for the blade he couldn’t prise his hands away from his injured dick.
“You were gonna stab me!” She then rounded on us. “Give me that fucking gun!” She yelled, outstretching her hand. Chris managed to roll on his front, snarling through gritted teeth. His hands splayed out on the ground as he started to crawl towards Brittany.
Emma and I froze wide-eyed with horror. Neither of us had expected him to pull the slasher movie cliché of faking being dead. This was some fucked up Friday The Thirteenth shit, where the bad guy refused to go down and the three of us ought to be tail assing ourselves outta there. “Brittany!” I bellowed. “Run!”
Panic splattered her face as she turned just in time to see him swipe the blade at her ankles. With quick reflexes, she managed to jump out of the way in the nick of time. As she landed she staggered, turning clumsily and fled in our direction. All three of us ran like our lives depended on it, back through the forest and out towards the small unlit parking lot. Brittany’s car was parked diagonally where she’d abandoned it.
“Keys, keys,” she muttered, frantically, patting down the pockets of her jeans.
Emma tried the handle of the passenger side door and pulled it open. “C’mon, let’s go,” she cried, pulling the seat forward to allow me inside. If I could think straight, I would’ve checked to see if Sean was hiding in the back, waiting to pounce like another horror movie cliché but thank God, he wasn’t. I threw the rifle on the back seat and scrambled inside.
Brittany fished her keys out of her pocket and scrambled in the driver's side. I clutched the handgun firmly, in case I was forced to use it. The engine sprang to life and Brittany tail spun the car around, kicking up chippings from the ground. Adrenaline was running high amongst all three of us. “Brittany, do you have your phone?” Emma panted, snatching a side glance.
“Yeah,” she replied. “It’s in my purse by your feet.”
Emma fumbled around, producing the bag and retrieved the phone. “Here.” She passed it to me. “I can’t think straight.”
My trembling fingers coiled around it, pressing to illuminate the home screen. Never had I been so scared in my life. I managed to dial 911, then held the phone against my ear while it rang. After the third ring, the operator answered.
“911 what’s your emergency?” The female operator asked, in a rehearsed tone.
My restraint wavered, opening the floodgates to my tear ducts. “Police... we’ve been attacked....tried to kill us,” I managed to force my words through my raw throat.
Her tone became anxious, “Ma’am, can you give me your name and your exact location?”
“My name is Helen Evans. Me and my friends were at the park by the boating lake but we’re now in my friend's car. She’s gonna head to the station towards town because they’re here, it’s not safe to stay here,” I spluttered, hardly making sense.
“OK ma’am, try to remain calm,” she advised, “What make and model is your friend's car? I’ll send a patrol car to meet you half way.”
Just as I went to answer, Emma’s and Brittany’s screams filled the car, near causing my heart to jump through my chest. My eyes flicked up to the scene through the windshield, just in time. Sean was staggering in the middle of the road, disoriented and covered in blood. He looked like an extra from the night of the living dead. Instead of stopping, Brittany just put her foot down and floored it.
Sean shielded his face with his arms, thinking he was about to be mown down but instead she swerved last minute, bumping up the grass verge to avoid him. The second the tires touched the tarmac of the main road we all let out a breath of relief.
“Ma’am...Ma’am, hello?” The anxious voice of the operator called out through the phone.
“Sorry, we’re alright,” I assured. Her own relieved breath rattled down the line. “Thank goodness, you had me worried for a second. Just stay on the line until the officer pulls you over.”
No sooner had she reassured me, we saw red and blue flashing lights heading towards us on the opposite side of the road. Brittany slowed the car to a stop, slumping against the steering wheel, her shoulders trembling as she cried.
My stomach flipped three hundred and sixty degrees and I rattled Emma’s headrest. “Gonna throw up,” I warned. She flung open her door and got out, pulling the seat forward. I barely made it with one leg out before spilling the contents of my stomach onto the grass verge at the side of the road. Emma patted my back while I heaved, spitting out every last bit.
“It’s OK now, we’re safe,” she spoke in a trembled voice. Heavy footsteps approached the car, then masculine voices fired concerned questions at us, demanding to know what had happened.
“Is everybody alright? Do you require an ambulance?” One of the officers asked.
Emma must’ve shaken her head while I clutched my knees, regaining composure. “Kenny, come take a look in the back.” Another officer spoke in a detached tone.
I looked up and glanced around, witnessing the officer remove the guns from the back of the car. The middle-aged officer called Kenny sighed. “Girls, I’m gonna have to ask you to come and sit in the back of the patrol car.” His gaze flicked back to his partner. “Bill, radio through and request back up.”
The three of us were ushered in the cop car. Kenny climbed in the front seat and positioned himself to face us. “What happened?” He asked, looking amongst us. Emma went first, giving a brief account of what happened. I heard Bill radio through to the station requesting someone to conduct a thorough sweep of the woodland. Brittany sat in silence, looking as if she was in shock and if I’m honest, I was pretty sure I wasn’t far behind her.
“Because of what you’ve just told me, I’m gonna have to bring you down to the station. You’re not under arrest, it’s just that I’m gonna need you to make a formal statement,” Kenny explained.
During the ride we sat in silence, all three of us numb after what transpired in the Woods. Two more patrol cars zoomed past us on route to the scene. I felt my seized muscles begin to relax finally and that’s when the tears began to fall. Soft hands covered both mine that lay loosely in my lap. I glanced either side to see Emma take one hand and Brittany take the other. I gave them a gentle squeeze, mirroring the trepidation we all must’ve been feeling, not being able to anticipate the outcome.
While at the station, we were called to the interview room one at a time. A male and female officer sat opposite me, both sporting the same serious frowns on their faces. “And you’re saying Christopher Reynolds, intended to kill Miss Emma Forsythe?” The female officer repeated her question for the umpteenth time in what felt like hours.
“Yes,” I breathed out exasperated. “I’ve already told you what happened.” I sat slumped forwards, resting my elbows along the grey table top. The heat emanating from the overhead light made the small, grey room, feel like a sweatbox.
“So you keep saying.” She glared back at me with unyielding eyes, as if doubting every word that spilled from my mouth.
A loud rasping knock on the door had us all whipping our heads in its direction.
The male officer let out a heavy sigh. “Interview suspended, 03:45 hours.” He pressed a button on the recorder.
“Is that the time?” I grumbled, exhausted.
The door opened and my heart skipped in my chest as Emma’s father emerged, fully suited, with a pissed off expression sprawled across his face. “Is she under arrest?” He asked in a clipped tone.
“No.” The female officer's eyes narrowed. “And you are?”
“George Forsythe, her attorney.” He came and took a seat beside me. “Are you alright?” George turned to me, using a softer approach.
Boy was I so glad to see him. “Sort of.” I swallowed hard. “But I don’t think these guys believe me,” I told him, “Chris and Sean were there. Sean still has my phone.”
The male officer resumed the recording. “Interview commenced at 03: 47 hours.”
“This phone?” The male officer produced my phone in a clear evidence bag. “For the purpose of the tape, Mrs. Evans mentioned that Mr. Sean Broadhurst was in possession of her cell phone. The same cell that was found amongst the grass verge after Miss Brittany Williams mowed him down in a hit and run. Isn’t that right, Mrs. Evans.”
George waved a hand in front of him. “You don’t have to answer that, Helen.” He glowered at the male officer. “It still doesn’t explain why my client's phone was in Mr. Broadhurst's possession in the first place. Now if she’s not under arrest, I suggest you release her without further charges,” he argued his point in a cool professional manner.
Both interviewing officers exchanged a look of defeat. The female huffed angrily, while the male slammed his finger down on the tape recorder. “Interview terminated at 03:50.”
George flashed me a triumphant smile. “That’s a new record.”
Chairs scraped against the rough floor as we all pushed backward. “Thank you, George.” I held out my outstretched hand to shake his hand, to which he grasped it, returning the gesture. “You’re practically family,” he replied gently. “Besides, your mom was going insane with worry. She’s out in the waiting room along with Dahlia.”
“Where’s Sam? Is he here?” My heart thumped wildly in my chest.
George's brows lifted as he spoke. “Oh, you mean the big guy who’s the size of a house? Well sure, he’s cleared out your dorm and was about ready to bust in here and take you home to Bear Creek. That was until your mom managed to talk him around.”
In all of my fluster, it slipped my mind that Sam would’ve sensed something was wrong. Lucky me. He probably called mom, who then contacted Emma’s parents.
“Where’s Emma and Brittany?” I asked, concerned.
George placed his hand against the small of my back as he guided me out of the room and into the brightly lit corridor. “They’re free to go. It was you that they seemed interested in for some strange reason.” A grim shadow clouded his features, as if he knew something that would frighten me.
“I don’t want you to stress yourself, if you know what I mean.” His eyes said what his words couldn’t. He knew about my pregnancy. Mom probably told him. But that being said, there was something in the way that George spoke that unnerved me. He was choosing his words carefully in front of the officers as if this place wasn’t as safe as I would’ve thought.
As we rounded the corner, I saw mom spring to her feet and rush towards me. “Helen!” She Exclaimed. Emma and her mom, Dahlia, glanced up from where they were sitting in the waiting room. Brittany was the only one sitting with her head still bowed. Her legs were curled up against her chest with one arm wrapped around her shins. She stared vacantly at the floor as if traumatized. Her other hand was curled around her nose and she was sucking her thumb.
I pulled back from mom's embrace. “What’s wrong with her?” I asked, scrunching my brows in a worried frown.
Emma’s eyes drooped as she glanced in Brittany’s direction. “Brit,” she spoke softly. “Hey Brit, we can go.”
Brittany’s brows bunched. “I want Mommy and Daddy,” she mumbled with her mouth full.
I looked back and forth between my mom, Emma, and Dahlia, unsure as to what was happening.
Dahlia seemed to know what to say to get her to move. “It's alright, sweetheart. We’ll take you to your mommy and daddy, okay? Will you come with us?”
Without removing her thumb, Brittany nodded. Dahlia held out her hand and Brittany took hold of it, allowing her to lead her outside like a child.
Emma hung back to speak to me. “It's like she regressed when they interviewed her. I don’t know what happened.” She shook her head, baffled.
“Shit,” I breathed. “How hard did they go on her?” I shot a scornful glare behind me to where the officers were scribbling something down for George to sign.
“I dunno.” Emma shrugged. “But Chris and Sean have walked free.” I snapped my head back round to face her, staring back with shock and repulsion contorting my face. “They're what? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?” How powerful were these fucking hunters? We were the victims in this situation but we had been treated as if we were the troublemakers.
Mom placed a hand on my shoulder. “Neither of you girls are going back to college. Jack’s gonna square things so that you can finish early. Especially under the circumstances, we think it’s for the best.” Both Emma and I nodded in agreement.
The cool air was a welcoming comfort as we stepped outside. I watched Emma’s mom help Brittany into their car. “What’s going to happen to her?” I turned to mom.
Mom pressed her lips together giving a genuine look of sympathy. “We called her mom, but she doesn’t want to know.”
“That’s bull shit, she’s her daughter.” I ran a hand through my tangled hair feeling nothing but disgust towards Brittany’s birth giver. I refused to call her a mother, the selfish fucking bitch. “Brittany saved our asses back there mom,” I voiced my gratitude. “If she hadn’t shown up when she did, Emma and I would’ve been dead,” I explained, witnessing Emma shudder.
“Don’t worry,” Mom reassured. “She’s going to be staying at Emma’s.”
“It's the least I can do.” Emma shrugged. “She doesn’t have anyone else.”
That was the harsh reality of it. The poor girl had no one. No wonder she acted out all her life. It all made perfect sense. “Well, now she has us,” I responded humbly.
Mom's phone beeped with a text. “Oh, Sam and Jack are done loading the Jeep. We’re taking my car and Sam is driving yours back home.”
I engulfed Emma in a hug. “I guess this time it’s goodbye?” I mumbled, sadly.
She breathed in deeply, then exhaled. “Not for long,” she replied, making me pull back and give her a narrowed look.
“You’ve invited me for Christmas, dummy,” she breathed with a smile.
After saying our goodbyes, I thanked George for his help and hugged Brittany one more time. Not that she seemed to understand what I was saying. It was strange, like she was eight years old again. The same age she was when her dad left. I wondered if that had any insignificance to how she was acting.
“Goodbye and God bless.” Mom tapped on the side window as they drove away.
“Come on honey, Sam and Jack are waiting up the road,” Mom informed. She climbed in the driver's side and pulled the door shut. I relaxed into the passenger seat with my head leaning back against the headrest.
“I can’t wait to get out of here,” I mumbled, exhausted. My mouth was as dry as desert sand and my stomach was screaming at me for food.
If I wasn’t so anxious to see Sam, I would’ve caught some shut-eye. Mom kept an eye out for Jack’s Jeep and when she spotted it, pulled up behind it. My car was parked in front and Sam had been sitting in his dad’s vehicle while waiting for us. Both doors were flung open as mom put her car into park. My fingers fumbled to unclip my seatbelt and bolted from the car.
“Helen!” Sam had the look of a wild man as he raced towards me, crashing together and hoisted me up into his arms.
We kissed fiercely as we collided. “Thank...God...You’re...alright,” he spoke, between kisses.
I pulled back, hanging with my arms around his neck. “You knew didn’t you?” I searched his grey eyes, seeing the storm raging inside. “Yes. I felt your panic, then I couldn’t reach you on your cell. Then later, when we were on our way over here, I felt your fear and I thought I was gonna lose you.”
He leaned down pressing his forehead against mine. “I’m taking you home. It's not safe here... or anywhere that’s not Forest Lake.”
“I just wanna go home,” I told him, thankful we were together again.
That night was a wakeup call for me. The world I knew was a dangerous place and certainly not as clear cut as I thought it was. Sam took me back to Bear Creek, and there I stayed. He was right to mistrust humans. Not all of them, just some. Those who aided the hunters were everywhere, just like he said. Some were respected figures of authority and held positions of power. I was sure that if news of my pregnancy had reached those officers, there would be no way I could’ve walked out of that station a free woman.
I wondered about Chris and Sean. Where they were and what they were doing. I prayed to god that we would never cross paths with them again but Sam thinks we might. He told me that hunters still encroach onto the land from time to time and that if the entire shifter community doesn't band together, then an invasion could happen sooner than we think.
Under special circumstances, Emma, Brittany and I, were still able to graduate without attending the ceremony. That was just as well. The last thing I heard was that Brittany wasn’t doing so good. On a more positive note, Emma’s parents had taken her in and we're getting her counseling. I sure hoped she was gonna be OK. I owed her my life and the lives of my cubs after all.
“Are you over thinking again?” Sam placed his book down on top of his bedside table. “Come to bed,” he curled his finger, beckoning me.
I let the curtains drop back into place. “It's a clear night tonight. You can see Orion's belt.” I gestured out through the bedroom window.
Sam pulled back the duvet, revealing his engorged appendage. “Never mind him, come see what’s under my belt.” He shot me a lascivious grin, wiggling his eyebrows.
My natural response was a not so subtle eye roll. “You’re insatiable during the full moon.”
As soon as my ass hit the mattress he pounced, making me forget what the heck I was worried about.