I made it halfway down the beach when a series of cheers and whooping filled the air, followed by laughter and thundering feet.
There were at least a hundred men and women running down the beach, towards the forest’s emerald leaves, muted from the dark but still beautiful beneath the moonlight.
A few shifted prematurely, shredding bathing suits and swimming trunks as fur sprouted from their arms, neck, and torso.
For many the shift was instant, an animal breaking free from its two-legged p****n. Large paws dug into the sand, spraying those who hadn’t yet shifted. Some shouted and groaned, while others laughed and tried not to get it in their eyes.
“Manhunt! Manhunt!”‘ A few guys chanted, dispersed throughout the crowd. Their voices were nearly d*d in the laughter and cheering. Still, the word brought nothing but confusion.
‘Isn’t manhunt like adult hide and seek?’ I asked Maya, even though there was no way she’d know the answer.
When she responded with a shrug, I cut my losses and peered down the beach. I couldn’t see too far, but there were still four fires that dotted the sandy dunes.
People sat around them, most obscured by distance and darkness. It was unlikely Asher would be sitting around a fire, surrounded by people as he ignored my voice ringing in his head.
‘Asher? I’m walking down the beach. Where are you?’ I called out, only to again be met with silence.
‘Let’s not panic.’ Maya said firmly, but I was no longer sure if she were talking to me or herself. ‘There could be a good reason he’s ignoring us.’
‘Hopefully, there’s a good reason for this feeling I’m having.’ I grunted, unable to place the odd tingling in the pit of my stomach.
I could walk down the beach and search each bonfire, or I could go into the forest -which seemed the more likely option between the two.
My mind was concocting all sorts of things. Perhaps he had found a vampire lingering on the borders, or did something new happen with the witches?
It had been almost twenty-four hours since their first a****k, and I was already beginning to wonder how soon the second would come.
As I tried to convince myself there was no need to worry, irritation began to take hold. I would know if something happened to him, but Asher wouldn’t ignore me.
With a huff, I turned and chose one of the dirt trails that led into the forest.
Asher’s scent was practically all over the place. Trailing throughout the forest from recent and old patrol routes with Zeke, Mason, and countless other warriors.
It would have been easier if nearly a hundred people hadn’t just come storming through, but it was better than searching a dwindling beach.
The beach behind me all but vanished, swallowed by foliage, and cloaked by night. If I hadn’t had a glass of blood before the party, the gust of chilled wind that passed through might’ve made me shiver.
It wafted up the sweatshirt and through the flimsy b****i bottom’s that I wore.
My feet crunched beneath the leaves and branches, padded across damp soil and rocky earth. The distant sound of shouting and howling, followed by laughter rippled throughout the forest.
I headed north, deeper into the forest and farther from the lake before cutting to the east. My intention was to circle back around, to search the car if I couldn’t pick up his scent.
A branch cracked not too far away, it’s sound deafening in my ears. My spine went rod straight, sending Maya on full alert. The feeling in my stomach was growing worse, turning sour and more wrong by the minute.
Another crack, another snap. This one to the left of me, and then another to the right.
The shadows twitched and writhed in the distance, and for once, I was half tempted to call on them.
‘We’re being circled.’ Maya snarled, sending a burst of strength into my legs as I kicked off into a sprint.
We should have shifted, but only a few long seconds had passed before the feeling subsided, and the sound of padding feet grew quiet and distant.
I came to a stop beside a great oak tree, using its thick trunk as coverage. Silence enveloped the forest for so long, that I jumped when a triumphant whoop filled the air.
Before my hand could fall against my racing heart, something huge charged from the brush, barreling into me faster than I could process. There was no pain, only adrenaline, and shock as I recoiled seconds too late.
My feet twisted and tripped over the earth as this mass of flesh toppled me over, tearing the air from my lungs when I fell on my back.
I snarled and thrashed, sweat and dirt clinging to my skin, filling my nostrils as they hovered over me- their weight bearing down on my chest.
All too easily they wrenched my hands from my chest, pinning my wrists down with brutal force. I wondered if my heart would stop from how hard it hammered, from how fast the adrenaline coursed through my veins, heightening every sensation that rippled across my skin.
“Hasn’t anyone told you, little girl…” Asher’s voice was dark with anger, his eyes black holes that devoured my trembling, panting face. His breath fanned across my face, “…never go in the forest when a game of Manhunt is being played. Not unless you’re willing to play yourself.”
A fire burned low in my gut, searing my insides as it traveled lower-to where Asher straddled me. It grew, pooling between my legs every time I thrashed or made him snarl.
“How-how do I play?” I panted, sucking in a breath when his eyes zeroed in on my mouth, narrowing when my tongue darted out to wet my dry lips.
I could see the outline of his hand and stiffened when it traveled lower. I thrashed when I felt the ghost of his fingertips gliding across my hip, where the strings of the b****i met in a neat bow. I clenched my legs together, knowing it was only a matter of time before he could smell me-before he could find out how depraved I actually was.
“You play by running…by praying you don’t get caught.” His voice was soft, but there was nothing gentle in his words. They were unforgiving, revealing a fate I couldn’t escape.
I stiffened beneath him when the pieces clicked together in my mind, bringing back a memory I thought I had long forgot.
In the past, Tyler and I had been to countless parties. Being seen with him enhanced my image, made me more important than everyone else. Or that’s what I had thought at the time.
There had been one party in particular, one where Tyler vanished halfway through, A game of chase had been happening when the moon had risen, between nearly a dozen male and females. I had never once thought Tyler would be among them, that he would cheat on me of all she-wolves.
Even when he appeared just an hour after the final howls of the night sounded, I final howls of night sounded, I never once entertained the thought.
Chase, as my pack called it, was a game between unmated males and females- one that almost always ends in having carnal s*x, deep within the forest. I had never played it before myself, and not once did I think a different pack might call it something else.
Seconds had passed and yet I still asked, ” And what happens…if you get caught?”
Fingers brushed my th, raising goosebumps even though the chill of the night held no affect on me. The dainty bow that held my b*i unraveled, rendering the scrap of fabric useless.
I felt him breathe deeply, his voice turning guttural. “I can smell you, Lola. You know exactly what happens.”
His hand ghosted towards the other bow. Perhaps it was his determination, or my waning will to fight, but it had been all too easy to situate himself between my legs.
It had all but vanished the moment his hand slipped between my legs, seeking out the heat between them. Stubborn as ever, I bit back my groan when he dragged a finger through my folds, circling my c**t once before pulling back.
“There’s more out there, watching- wanting a taste of you.” He murmured in my ear, peeling away my useless b****i bottoms and tossing them to the side.
He did another long drag with his fingers, bringing that slippery moisture to my c**t. I ground my teeth together, refusing to give him anything–even the barest of sounds. He let out a snarl as he grew impatient, making my eyes roll when he pressed the pad of his thumb against it.
“Will you fight me, Lola? Even though I’ve caught you fair and square?”‘ There was that anger again, delicious as it seared my skin and made his movements blissfully rough. His fingers dug into my wrists, pinning them harder against the earth.
His teeth nipped at my neck, the euphoric sting of them pricking my skin made my back arch, giving me glimpse at how much Asher was enjoying himself. ” Even after I stalked you-hunted you, you’d fight me?”
When my face turned red and I refused to answer, he smirked against my neck. “You’re angry with me, for ignoring you, my sweet little mate. Allow me to make it up to you.”
Ever so slowly, he removed his hand from my wrist. The moment I began to move, his hand came slamming back down. His voice was harsh, barely concealing a threat, “Keep your hands where they belong.”
I had promised myself I’d keep up my silent protest, fighting even when my body ached and craved his rough touch. There was nothing gentle about the way Asher worshiped my body, dragging his teeth and lips across every inch of my skin, leaving tiny welts in their place.
When his arms wrapped around my thighs, pinning my pu**y against his mouth, the sound that left my mouth was unmistakable. He had torn the scream from my throat with his tongue running it through my folds and against my c**t with eyes that burned with ferocity.