Chapter 3 - Crystal (Part 2)
Sweltering summer heat gathered on Crystal’s brow and dripped down her face.
She tried to throw off the heavy blanket and froze when it moved back into place over her.
Opening her eyes, rays of afternoon sunshine streamed down through the cracks in the boards of the walls of her enclosure. Birdsong flitted around her. Crickets chirped and sang. A mouse scurried across the rotting floor several feet away. A big furry arm draped over her waist and hugged her close to a large form with a wet nose pressed into the curve of her neck. A putrid stench of decay surrounded her.
Gagging, she tried to slip out from underneath the beast, but he only groaned and held her closer.
Her heart raced faster as fear shook her. “P-Please let me go.”
Sweat drenched her body, her clothes sticking to her like glue. It was too warm. Too warm.
“Water,” she whimpered, shaking more.
She needed water. She needed to lower her temperature. Too much heat…
The pain fired through her skull as she clenched her jaws. Her body twisted and jerked violently as she cried out in rasping wheezes like a strangled animal.
The edges of her vision darkened and blurred, her hearing dimmed, but the arms of the beast held her firmly until the last tremor abandoned her, weak and limp at the beast’s mercy.
Tears soaked her cheeks as the ache set in and the racing of her heart slowed, but the beast held tautly. He was panting. She could feel his muscles trembling against her skin. She stiffened when his cool, damp nose touched her hot, sweaty neck and inhaled deeply.
With her chest still heaving to return oxygen to strained muscles, the beast relaxed his hold and withdrew from her.
He hovered over her. His massive form terrified her. Even with his thick matted fur concealing his body, she could feel the power emanating from him. He had the broad shoulders of a man, a strong torso, thick arms that extended out to large, rough hands with massive talon-like claws that could slice her open with one quick swipe. His fur was a dark brown with a golden-maple swirl over his eyes, muzzle, and belly.
What stopped her heart were the pale gray eyes staring back at her. Haunted with pinprick pupils that slowly began to grow in size the longer she stared back at him.
He touched her cheek with the back of his paw and whined when she flinched away.
Was that pain she saw in those eyes?
He half-growled, half-whined before he huffed and nudged his nose under her arm. He wanted her to get up?
“I can’t,” she mumbled.
He nudged his nose under her arm again.
Her eyes prickled. “I don’t have the strength, okay!”
Huffing, he balled his paws into fists, the claws digging into the rough pads of his palms and slipped one arm under her knees and the other under her neck and lifted her up.
“No, no, no,” she protested. “Put me down!”
He growled lowly, a slight rumble in his throat, and adjusted her weight.
Despite the heaviness of her arms, she instinctively reached up to wrap them around his wide neck for extra support and security.
He stiffened for a moment before his muscles relaxed. His nose pressed to the crown of her head and inhaled. His exhalation fanned across her face and her nose wrinkled at the wicked stench that met her sense.
She’d been around enough werewolves and dogs to know that his musk wasn’t normal. Lycans shouldn’t smell like a dead skunk on the side of the road.
Why wouldn’t he shift back into his human form? Wouldn’t it have been easier to explain to her who he was, what they were doing out in the middle of nowhere, and lose the claws? With those sharp claws and foul odor, she didn’t like being so close to him.
The fact that he was so careful didn’t go unnoticed.
He held her as if she were fine glass, while trying his best to keep his claws away from her skin.
And he kept smelling her. What was with that? It wasn’t like she was a female dog in heat or something.
His heartbeat was fast, thumping loudly against her ear and oddly enough, she felt safe in his arms.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked, her eyes scanning around.
The trees were beginning to thin, the foliage on the ground thickening with lush green ferns and grasses as a calm stream with a pebbly shore came into view.
“Oh.” Was he really taking her to water?
She may be a werewolf without a wolf, but she could handle drinking water straight from the source like the rest of her kind. Unclean water didn’t bother her like the scrape on her knee the night before no longer bothered her. It healed while she slept.
Hold on, did I sleep with a lycan all night?
“I, um… I appreciate you taking me to the river. I’ll feel better soon. Did you—uh—protect me last night? What happened?” she stumbled over her words as he walked into the calm water.
He didn’t answer as he paused and lowered himself to his knees before carefully setting her down in the water before him.
She laid back, her head almost completely submerged as the chilly water eased the embers still smoldering within her veins.
Sighing, she closed her eyes and focused on the feel of the gentle ripples caressing her body, like soft fingers smoothing out the knots and kinks.
After a few moments of deep breathing exercises, she opened her eyes and saw that the lycan hadn’t moved from her side. His eyes were downcast and looking to his side.
In the bright sunlight, she saw scars scattered across his face where the fur was the thinnest. They crisscrossed over his muzzle, his brows, and a thick scar on his ear suggested it had once been ripped down the middle before healing back together.
When he looked back up and caught her gaze, her heart jumped in her throat.
The intensity within those grays was full of so many emotions that she couldn’t even begin to decipher them all. They swirled together in a cloudy storm that made all her hairs stand on end.
“Who are you?” she asked.
She shivered at the sound of her voice. Why did she sound breathless?
His brows furrowed and his lips curled back, revealing a sharp set of teeth. He sputtered out sounds before he snarled and turned away. Picking up a paw-full of rocks, he hurled them across the river, grumbling as his fur bristled and his ears flattened back. His body-language said what he couldn’t.
She cleared her throat. “Why don’t you shift?”
He growled, pacing a few feet away from her, kicking the rocks along the shore as he went before circling back to her. His ears were back, tail lowered, and eyes avoiding hers.
“Can you shift?”
His ears perked toward her before he paused and hung his head, tucked his tail under his legs, and flattened his ears back. He shook his head, no.
A lycan who couldn’t shift? It was the oddest thing she’d heard in a long time.
“Huh? How did that happen?”
Huffing, his shoulders heaved up and down as he sat next to her.
He couldn’t talk, couldn’t shift, smelled like a dead animal… What happened to him?
He couldn’t be the same beast she saw last night, could he? The vampire had called him by name, but he didn’t seem dangerous at all.
She hesitated, afraid he would be offended if he wasn’t the lycan she thought him to be. “Are you Tiberius the Rogue?”
His heavy brows furrowed, but he nodded.
Her eyes widened. “No way.”
He looked around him and his ears perked up before he picked up a flat rock. Gripping it in one paw, he pressed a nail against the smooth surface and looked like he was writing an inscription on it. He struggled to hold the rock still and dropped it into the water. A little snarl curled his lips as he fished it back out and continued pressing his claw across its surface before he curled his fingers around it and held his paw out to her.
Confused and slightly stunned, she pulled herself up into a sitting position, her strength slowly coming back.
He dropped the rock into her outstretched hand before curling back, his shoulder hunched, head tilted with one ear down and the other perked toward her.
It was the size of her palm, round in shape, and smooth from years of water polishing the rough edges away. She rubbed her thumb over the surface of it before turning it around to read the inscription.
Her breath caught in her throat as she looked back at him with wide eyes.