Heart of a Beast

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Chapter 11 - Crystal (Part 1)

A whisper of voices roused Crystal from sleep. A cold cloth rested on her forehead and after a few seconds, she recognized her mother’s voice whispering above her.

“Do you need more to eat? It’s okay if you do. I don’t know how much lycans need to sustain themselves. You’re not a burden on us.”

A burden…

That word was rarely used in her mother’s lexicon. And yet, it circulated around constantly in Crystal’s head since she became a teenager and never shifted.

She wanted to shrink away when their gazes burned into her cheeks.

“I’ll bring you another steak,” her mother said before the door closed with a click a second later.

She peeked one eye open to see Tiberius at her side and setting his head down on her mattress, watching her.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she wished he would leave her alone for a minute. His constant attentiveness and need to be around her was overbearing.

“Can I just… have a moment to myself?” she mumbled.

His whine struck her heart.

Damn him. It was as if he knew how much that sound would trigger her.

Sighing, she reached up with a weak achy hand to remove the cold compress from her head. Opening her eyes and blinking a few times to bring the world into focus, she squinted at her bedside alarm clock. She must have been out for an hour. Did he sit there the entire time?

“I’m fine,” she told him. “I can take care of myself. You don’t need to hover so much.”

He whimpered lightly and gave her hand a little lick. Other than that, he didn’t budge.

She huffed. “Stubborn, aren’t you?”

His eyes smiled at her, a crystalline gray color, almost silver.

Her heart fluttered as she looked away.

Silence filled the space until her mother returned with a plate of food for him. She asked if Crystal was hungry even though she knew the answer was no.

With a bit of difficulty, Crystal managed to move her pillow and prop herself up against the white wooden headboard before her mother passed her a glass of water with a straw.

“Can I have a moment alone with my mother?” she asked Tiberius, avoiding eye-contact with him.

Even though he’d probably refuse and most likely hear everything anyway, she wanted some semblance of normalcy and privacy.

He huffed but left with his plate of food.

Ma closed the door behind him before sitting on the edge of her bed. She touched Crystal’s cheek with the back of her hand and gave her a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

“What’s the matter, Cris?”

Not knowing where to start, Crystal shrugged her shoulders and stared down at her glass of water before reaching over to the small end table next to her bed to set it down.

“Everything will be okay,” her mother said as Crystal leaned back against the headboard.

“Look at him, Ma,” Crystal whispered, twisting the blanket between her fingers. “How will anything be okay?”

“Give him a chance. He’s stuck right now and you will have to work together to figure out how to cure him.”

Crystal swallowed and looked away.

Easy for her to say. Dad was normal. Dad could talk, for crying out loud!

“I don’t know what to do, Ma…”

“Well, you can start with that attitude.”

Crystal gaped at her. “Ma!”

Crossing her arms, her mother raised a dark brown brow pointedly. “Listen to yourself, Cris. You know I’m right. That negativity needs to stop. That male out there loves you, will do anything for you, and you’re not giving him the chance he deserves. You’re not a pup anymore. You have a mate and you need to start thinking about yourselves as mates. Don’t shut him out because it makes you uncomfortable. Right now, you both need to come together, talk and listen to each other, and try to find a way to make this bond work and look for a way to cure him of his problem.”

Crystal clutched the blanket, cringing at her mother’s words. “I know but… I feel… I don’t even feel the matebond.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, he feels it, but I don’t. I don’t feel a pull. I don’t like his scent. I don’t want him to touch me. My skin crawls when he looks at me… He scares me.”

“I know it’s scary, Cris, but tell me, truthfully, what do you feel when you look into his eyes? You have looked into his eyes before, right?”

Crystal raked her teeth over her bottom lip and looked away from her mother’s olive-green eyes, her face heating up. “Yeah…”

“And?”

“M-My heart was beating so hard and fast, I could hardly breathe.”

Ma nodded, knowingly. “Eyes are the windows to the soul, Cris. And every time you gaze into his soul, you’re going to feel that. That is the pull of the matebond.”

Hanging her head, the silence stretched between them as Crystal thought about her mother’s words before Ma asked if she could get anything else for her.

She shook her head. “No. I just need a moment to myself now.”

“Alright. When you’re ready, why don’t you and Tiberius listen to some music together? Or you can relax and sketch in here? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind some quiet time, listening to music while you draw, as long as he’s with you,” Ma suggested before leaving and closing the door behind her.

After staring up at the ceiling and mulling over her mother’s words a bit more, her thoughts drifted back to Tiberius and the ways he had tried to be gentle, tried to communicate with her, and tried to take care of her. The way he’d cry when she was having her episodes and hold her protectively against him.

Closing her eyes, she sighed as she pushed him from her mind and forced her tired, achy body up and draped her legs over the side of the bed.

Dammit… She hated this. The seizures, the exhaustion, the aches, the weakness…

How could she ever give him everything he needed in a mate when every day of her life was like this? When every day she was reduced to this worthless existence just taking up air and space?

And despite that, the Goddess gave you to a lycan as a mate…

Why?

Her duffel bag and backpack caught her eye in the corner of her room. Getting up carefully, she pulled out her sketchbook and pencil case from her backpack and set them on the floor. She then reached for the duffel bag and pulled out her dirty jeans and the mate stone tucked into the back pocket.

She traced her thumb over the engraving, remembering how flustered he had been when it slipped through his large paw in an effort to tell her what she meant to him.

Give him a chance.

Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and pressed the mate stone between her palms as she bowed her head and exhaled slowly.

Goddess, please give me strength.

After a minute of silent prayer, she raised her head and got up to put a CD into the old CD player on her dresser. Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” began playing as she tucked the mate stone under her pillow, plunked herself down on the floor, and leaned against the bed with her sketchbook on her lap.

The mournful piano tune filled the emptiness as she opened her sketchbook up to the last drawing. The wolf’s head stared back at her, resembling Tiberius in a way that made her heart race.

A soft whine at the door jolted her and she clutched the book tightly to her chest.

How could she have drawn him before she even met him?

“Tiberius?” His name was a soft whisper over the melancholy music.

The door cracked open and he nudged it forward with his nose like a wolf would do. He peered in, as if seeking permission to enter, his ears perked toward her.

“Come in,” she said, closing her sketchbook before he could get a glimpse of her drawing.

Heat snaked up her neck and to her face as he closed the door behind him and joined her on the floor before her. He sat more like a man than a wolf with his hind legs making a circle before him and leaned on his front paws like a wolf. His body, like a fur-covered man, was strong and broad, while his wolf head was tilted slightly to the side.

Mashing her lips together, she looked down, holding the sketchbook to her chest like a shield.

“I’m going to try, Tiberius,” she murmured.

He shuffled next to her and, without getting too close, leaned the side of his head against hers.

The slow lament of the adagio sostenuto ended and the upbeat notes of the allegretto in the middle of the song began.

Hope.

It reflected the cheerful calm before the storm of the final movement of the sonata—the presto agitato. The whirlwind of emotions, the true test of love that either makes or breaks hearts.

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