Heart of a Beast

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Chapter 26 - Crystal (Part 1)

They piled into the black SUV after folding the back seats down. Crystal was invited to sit up front, but she declined, wanting to stay close to her mate. Her anxiety was creeping up on her. There was a lump in the back of her throat that she couldn’t swallow down.

Tiberius wrapped her up in his arms, her ear pressed to his heart, listening to the steady rhythm as she inhaled and exhaled slowly.

She was terrified to meet the witch that had cursed them.

Terrified, but there was also a small part of her that was angry. Angry with herself for not asking Tiberius about what happened and angry that this person demanded that they come to her bedside now that death was knocking on her door. She cursed them. She destroyed their lives. What right did she have to demand they meet with her now?

Her father decided at the last minute to accompany them as well, not daring to trust a pair of witches with his daughter and her mate’s life. Madame Papillon didn’t argue, so he sat in the front passenger seat and began to question the older witch as she drove.

“What is the meaning of this?” he demanded. “Has my daughter and her mate not suffered enough at the hands of Catherine?”

“I could not agree with you more,” Madame Papillon said, her eyes on the road ahead. “What my niece has done to them is unforgivable. She has dabbled in the darkest arts imaginable. I’m not even sure where she learned such magic, but whoever taught her the nature of curses omitted the part that every curse carries repercussions. Like a double-ended spear, whoever she curses before her, will also strike back at her.”

Dad growled. “Serves her right.”

Silence fell and the anger within Crystal began to build.

It was because of this curse, because of this witch, that her wolf was trapped inside. That her packmates tormented and teased her. That she had so many seizures she gave up on life. That she thought about killing herself.

It was because of this witch that Tiberius couldn’t shift, couldn’t have a normal conversation with her, couldn’t live a normal life, physically hurt himself over and over, and nearly died in his pursuit to find her.

What could Catherine possibly want? Forgiveness? After all the suffering she caused them?

She almost didn’t care what Tiberius had done to warrant this curse. He was the sweetest male she’d ever met. Whatever he’d done couldn’t have been as terrible as all the suffering this curse brought on them both.

They drove out of the city and into the countryside. A couple of hours passed before Madame Papillon pulled off the interstate and down a country road. Another ten minutes and she turned down another road and two more after that before she turned onto a narrow gravel road and into a wooded area. She slowed down on the uneven surface as the vehicle rocked slightly.

“Where are we?” Dad grumbled.

“At Michael’s house, Catherine’s father. Michael Mandala,” the witch replied. “But in our world, he is addressed as Master Mandala.”

There was that name again. Mandala. Crystal could never forget it and the way that lecherous bloodsucker said it two weeks ago.

She shivered and Tiberius nuzzled her. His throat rumbled lightly in a reassuring way as he brushed his paw through her hair.

“And what is he? A wizard?” Dad pressed.

Crystal looked up to see her father glaring daggers at the older woman, but she shook her head to his question.

“No, he’s an alchemist.”

Crystal’s ears perked up as did Tiberius’.

“Alchemist? What in the…” Dad trailed off, unsure of what to make of this revelation as much as Crystal was.

Madame Papillon sighed. “She thought he could heal her, and while he may have been successful in warding off death thus far, he is incapable of saving her soul—for it was the soul she targeted in her curse. That is why it was passed onto Crystal because of the bond she and Tiberius share.”

“Get a damn priest, then,” Dad grunted.

“Curses are complicated,” was all Madame Papillon would say.

The woods thinned a minute later and a quaint raised cottage with a little greenhouse next to it and a babbling creek behind it came into view. The grass surrounding it was in need of mowing, climbing up the calf but still inches away from the knee.

They pulled up to the house and climbed out of the SUV as a tall man with pale skin and slick black hair stepped out of the front door, and waited on the porch to greet them.

Tiberius’ throat rumbled in a mild threat as he stared at the man and ensured Crystal was close at his side with a protective arm wrapped around her shoulders.

They followed behind her father and Madame Papillon as they climbed up the half-dozen steps to the porch. The wood was old and in need of repair as it creaked and groaned underfoot.

Madame Papillon greeted the alchemist first, with her head held high and not a trace of emotion in her voice. “Michael.”

“Florence,” Master Mandala greeted back just as coldly, but his icy blue eyes quickly warmed as he reached out his right hand to greet Dad.

Dad stared him down, sniffed, and stiffly shook his hand as he regarded the man of equal height through furrowed brows. “Alexander. Your daughter has caused mine and her mate great trouble.”

“As a father, I understand your predicament and am truly sympathetic, Alexander. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Please, call me Michael.”

Madame Papillon snorted.

Master Mandala sent a sharp glare her way before he turned his attention to Crystal—or rather, Tiberius, who engulfed Crystal’s form with his from behind, his head over hers, and curled his lips up in a snarl.

With Tiberius’ form surrounding her and his unwillingness to step back, she didn’t reach out to shake Master Mandala’s hand—not that she wanted to, anyway.

She still couldn’t believe he was an alchemist. A real-life alchemist! She didn’t know what to make of it because she never heard of one before reading that book with Tiberius.

Master Mandala was a very attractive man, and very young-looking. Too young to be the father of an adult witch. His black hair trailed down his nape and curled at the tips. His pale blue eyes regarded her and Tiberius curiously with a hint of wonder and not an ounce of fear despite Tiberius’ growls.

Seeing that he wasn’t going to receive a greeting from Crystal and Tiberius, Master Mandala turned back to the front door and held it open, beckoning them into his home. “Welcome. Thank you for coming on such short notice. This shan’t take long. Come in, come in. Cup of tea?”

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