Heart of a Beast

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Chapter 7 - Tiberius (Part 2)

Hurrying back to the tree with his mate, he continued to breathe through his mouth and kicked dirt over the shredded vampire body in an effort to bury the eye-watering fetor.

His mate heard the howl too, her heartbeat quickening. A faint breeze picked up the stink of her fear and uncertainty as pine needles rustled underneath her.

“Do you think that’s my family?” she asked.

He growled his doubt.

He didn’t know whether she should climb down the tree and run away with him before the werewolves came, or face them.

They’ll take her away…

Shaking that thought from his mind, he reminded himself that it was wrong to tear mates apart—unless one or both of them rejected each other and denied their bond.

Would she deny him now that she knew the truth? Now that their souls met in a dream?

Slumping against the tree, he put his trust in the Goddess.

His neck and shoulders stung. While the scratches had healed within seconds, vampire bites took longer to heal. The venom in their saliva had the same effect that silver did. It would take a day to heal and leave a scar. He clutched at the largest bite on his shoulder to ease the bleeding.

Her sneakers scrapped against the rough bark as she began to climb down the tree, the branches groaning.

“Are you hurt?”

The air left his lungs and he squeezed his shoulder in response to the sweet ache within.

He wasn’t sure how well she could see in the dark, but he knew her undeveloped senses rendered her as weak as a human. She wouldn’t sense the vampire blood as much, but maybe she had seen enough of the fight to know that he had not walked away unscathed.

Still, if they hurried, perhaps they could make it back to the river before the werewolves reached them and were, thus, outside the territory and not seen as a threat?

He huffed, reaching his hands up to her to help her down. As if that stopped werewolves and lycans from attacking in the past as I passed through.

Another howl sounded, making her pause in her descent.

He could hear them clearly now. Their paws pounded against the earth with the force of a hurricane. Surrounding them, there were at least a dozen werewolves charging. There were too many, he couldn’t fight them all off if they attacked, especially if he had his mate in his arms or on his back.

His heart pounded as fear crept under his skin. He tried to swallow it, knowing it would give his opponents the upper hand, but he feared for her safety and well-being above all else.

He made a noise in his throat as he signaled her to stay put. He didn’t want her down on the ground if they attacked. How could he live with himself if something happened to her?

She held still, her heartbeat pounding in his ears, her breath caught in her throat for a few seconds before she slowly released it.

Growls erupted around him. Teeth flashing snarls as the large wolves closed in, snapping their jaws, wrinkling their noses in disgust at the odor hovering in the air and drenching the soil.

Tiberius crouched down into a protective stance, baring his teeth.

The leader in their group shifted into his human form. He wasn’t the alpha of the pack, but the beta or head warrior. The moonlight peaking between the dense leaves overhead flickered in his dark eyes.

“Shift and identify yourself,” he commanded in a deep and authoritative voice.

Tiberius could feel the power he held over the others, but it did little to intimidate him and his Alpha Bloodline.

“Shift!” he demanded again when Tiberius growled.

Tiberius dug his claws deeper into the earth. He looked left and right from the corners of his eyes, confirming that more than a dozen werewolves surrounded him, fur bristling, and foaming at the mouth, ready to kill if ordered.

The leader’s lips curled back, rage seeping from his pores, before he stilled and his eyes looked over Tiberius’ head.

Hackles raised as mental curses filled his head. Snarling, Tiberius tried to deter attention back to him, but it was too late. They had already discovered his mate in the tree despite the acidic stench of vampire blood saturating the air.

“Release the girl, Rogue.”

Tiberius snarled, making the wolves around him take a step closer, preparing to attack.

“Stop!” his mate called out from above.

He growled lowly as her heartbeat skipped irregularly.

Goddess, what if she has another seizure?

“Who are you?” the leader demanded up to her.

Finally, Tiberius could hear her name, but he didn’t have time to enjoy the moment.

“I’m Crystal of the Lancaster Pack. I was kidnapped—”

“Crystal? We’ve been looking for you since last night. We know who you are,” he said, his tone relaxing. “I’m Gregory, Beta of the Nickel Moon Pack. Our Alpha is on the phone now with the Alpha of the Matheson Pack, where your family is searching for you. Please, come with us.”

He lowered his eyes to Tiberius. “Step aside, Rogue, or we will take you out.”

“Don’t hurt him,” she said as Tiberius growled.

She was fighting it. He could smell her scent shifting as she fumbled to climb down the tree.

Throat rumbling, telling them to back off, he turned to help her down when wolves lunged and she cried out, “Stop! Don’t hurt him! He’s my mate!”

Jaws snapped at him. He swiped a paw when she cried out, wheezing, “T-T—”

And she was convulsing.

Whirling around, he reached up as she collapsed into his arms from a few feet up, and pulled her tightly to his chest as she continued to shake violently.

He growled in warning at the werewolves as they backed off, confusion marring their scents.

He held back his whimpers, rocking back on his heels and crouching down on one knee as her spasming slowed. When she stilled, he rested her lower body against his upright thigh and brushed the hair from her sweat-coated face. His heart clenched.

I’m here, Crystal. I won’t leave you. I’ll take care of you.

Blue-green eyes blinked beneath heavy lids as her heartbeat returned to a steady rhythm. “I-I’m sorry.”

He brushed his knuckles across her cheek. It’s my fault, not yours.

“Are you okay, miss?” Beta Gregory asked.

“Yeah,” she mumbled. “I’m just… tired.”

“You’re mates?”

Tiberius’ throat rumbled in confirmation, while Crystal faintly uttered a “yes.”

She closed her eyes before he closed his own, giving himself a moment of joy at her affirmation of their bond.

Despite his wounds, he slipped his arm back under her knees and rose up to his hind feet.

Hope was a thinly coiled thread looped around his heart and tugging hard.

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