Chapter 24 - Crystal (Part 3)
“You sure?” Ma asked as she tossed a tennis ball for the retriever to fetch. Four fluffy five-week-old pups played amongst themselves and some toys nearby while a fifth watched its mother run out, catch the ball, and bring it back.
“Yeah.” Crystal asserted as she jogged down the steps of the deck to her mother’s side. “Let’s go.”
Ma sighed, glancing at Crystal and giving her a once over in her T-shirt and shorts before the gold retriever returned with the ball in her mouth, tail wagging. “Alright.” She whistled and called the dogs to follow her back to the Nursery, picking up the two pups who ignored her in the process.
Crystal gathered the toys in her arms and followed her mother and the dogs into the kennel.
Once the animals were settled, Crystal and her mother locked up and hopped in the car to go to the community center, where the cells were located underground. On a good day, they would have walked to the community center since it was only a four-minute walk from the house, but Crystal’s mother knew she’d be tired later.
Crystal jumped out before her mother could even turn the car off when they arrived and hurried to the entrance of the building, where her father stood waiting.
“Ease up there, Cricket,” her father chuckled, standing in her way.
“I’m fine, Dad,” she said, pushing past him and pulling one of the double doors open.
“I’m sure you are,” he replied, following closely behind her as she marched down the hallway to the staircase, her mother trailing after them. “Just remember that he’s in a different state of mind right now.”
“I know,” she said, adding to herself, And so am I.
She couldn’t wait to see him. To touch him. Run her fingers through his thick fur and scratch him behind the ears. Feel his strong arms around her and hold her close. Look into his eyes and feel… everything.
She paused at the top of the stairs and gathered air into her lungs. She closed her eyes for a moment, remembering the way he held her face in his palms in their dream and kissed her.
Her heart beat harder as she exhaled and opened her eyes before going down the stairs.
‘We’ll be breaking the curse soon.’
Goddess, I hope so, she thought as she remembered what he had said before he kissed her. She was feeling things she shouldn’t feel toward a big hairy beast and if it weren’t for the fact that he was her soulmate, she’d cringe. She wished she could turn off the moon’s effect on her as well, but she couldn’t deny the fact that she missed him and was worried about him.
The community center was the hub of the pack. A large multi-faceted gym occupied the main level while meeting rooms for the higher-ups were on the second floor. A kitchen and communal eating area was the first floor under the gym, followed by a floor of safe rooms for the young, elderly, and pregnant to go during attacks, and below that was the floor with the armory and holding cells for prisoners.
Crystal had never been to the lowest floor before. Only higher-ranking wolves and warriors were allowed down there. She didn’t know what to expect when she got there but trusted that Tiberius would be safe, even if it wasn’t glamorous.
The temperature dropped a few degrees as she reached the last step. The air was dense with moisture, the concrete walls, floor, and ceiling stretching the length of the level. The hallway opened up to two sets of cells—a wall on the left with completely enclosed cells and the wall on the right lined with bars.
She barely even took a step forward before Tiberius’ large body slammed against the bars in the middle of the long hallway. His arm shot out with his claws extended, grasping air, reaching for her. His nostrils flared, teeth bared, a predator on the edge.
Pausing in her tracks, her breath caught as her eyes met his—fully dilated.
His face was cast in shadows as a growl reverberated the stillness and down to the marrow of her bones.
The hairs on her nape stood on end as her heart palpitated.
Her father’s hand touched her shoulder. She brushed it off and slowly approached her mate. Her breathing grew shallower as his eyes lured her down the hallway to his cell and out-stretched paw. As she neared, his pupils began to recede from his gray irises and the flaring of his nostrils lessened. He visibly relaxed and stopped growling, but his paw still stretched out for her.
She paused outside of reach, her eyes never leaving his, drawing a whine that squeezed her heart.
She stepped forward into his outstretched paw and he cupped her cheek. Sighing, she closed her eyes and reached up to put her small hand on the back of his larger paw.
“I missed you,” she whispered as she closed the distance between them and leaned against the cell bars.
He slipped his arms out and looped them around her as he bent forward to touch his forehead against hers. His throat rumbled as she reached up through the bars with both hands and brushed her fingers through his fur, from his head and down his neck.
She heard her parents whispering behind her, but couldn’t make out the words. She didn’t care what they said. She felt better in Tiberius’ arms, even if there were bars between them. His musk was worse in the heavy damp air, but she breathed through her mouth and focused her attention on the swelling of emotions in her heart.
She never felt this way about anyone and prayed that it wasn’t because of the new moon playing games with the dormant part of her. Wolf or not, she wanted this male, needed this male—maybe even loved this male.
His throat rumbled and purred as he nuzzled her and lick her shoulder, neck, and cheek. His affections warmed her, stirring the emotions that bubbled and swirled within. She couldn’t stop running her fingers through his fur, petting and stroking him as she spoke softly.
She told him about her morning, the refusal of help and struggle against the female she used to be.
“I can’t wait for the new moon to pass,” she whispered. She glanced over her shoulder at her father sitting at the foot of the stairs, her mother gone, and turned her attention back to him. She traced her fingers over the scars on his face. “I hate seeing you here. I know you just want to protect me, but I really hate this.”
She wanted to go back to the way things were. To the way he held her, gave her his full attention, showered her with affection, and encouraged her to be more than she was.
Or did she?
Things had been changing in the days to pass since meeting him. Her feelings changed. Her needs and wants changed.
She wanted more than that.
She wanted to be free. To break the curse. To be able to touch, hold, and kiss him in human form.
Why lie? she asked herself. I want you, need you, the way a female wants and needs her mate.
She took his head in her hands and kissed the top of his head.