Heart of a Beast

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Chapter 26 - Crystal (Part 2)

The silence in the house was disturbed by their arrival and the clicking of Tiberius’ claws on the worn wooden floorboards as they filed in. A small kitchen occupied one side of the house and a living room with a sofa bed on the other side. A long rectangular table separated the space with one chair on the end and three more chairs pulled to the other end. The end with the single chair was loaded with books, two stacks of ancient texts with half a dozen more opened up around them, some with faded print pages, while two had handwritten scribbles filling each page. There were medium-sized windows on three of the walls, all open to let fresh air in and the smell of the forest to fill the space.

Crystal saw a black raven in a tree outside one of the windows and wondered if it was Madame Papillon’s.

Once everyone was inside and standing in the open space between the kitchen and the living room, Master Mandala strode past them and grabbed the lonely chair at the table and pulled it to the other end that was cleared of books.

“Have a seat, have a seat,” he said before grabbing a stainless steel tea kettle from the gas stove and filling it with water from the sink.

No one moved an inch.

“We’re here to see Catherine, not drink tea,” Dad grumbled.

Master Mandala lowered his gaze before turning the water off. The look of a small boy being scolded by a parent crossed Crystal’s mind. “Yes, of course.”

The look vanished as he straightened up and set the kettle on the counter.

“So, where is she?” Dad demanded. “Let’s get this over with so we can be on our way and out of some other pack’s territory.”

Master Mandala smirked as he turned back to her father. “You needn’t worry about that. I own this land. Have for a century.”

Crystal’s eyes widened as her jaw fell open. Tiberius closed it with the edge of his thumb.

Her father was equally stunned but kept his mouth shut as he stiffened and eyes blinked rapidly for a few seconds before he regained his head.

“Well. That… that is…”

“Alchemy,” Master Mandala answered.

Madame Papillon snorted.

He sent her a sharp glare. “It’s why Catty came to me first.”

“How turning metals into gold equates with life extension and curing her of the backlash of her curse is fanciful folly at best,” Madame Papillon replied flatly.

“I am twice your age, woman.”

“I’m still waiting to see evidence of that.”

Crystal’s father cleared her throat. “And where is Catherine?”

Master Mandala tore his glare from Madame Papillon’s and looked from Crystal’s father to her and Tiberius before flitting off to the wall with no windows and three doors.

“Right. Right.” He clasped his hands before him and tapped his index fingers together. “Let me see if she’s awake. Have a seat. Make yourselves comfortable.”

Again, no one moved as he crossed the kitchen to the middle door. He opened the door and peered inside. A second later, he withdrew and closed it.

“She’s still sleeping. Tea?” he asked, turning back to them and scanning their faces hopefully.

Crystal’s father crossed his arms over his chest. “Wake her up, then.”

Master Mandala opened his mouth to object when both Tiberius and Dad growled. He snapped it shut. “Very well, then.”

He turned, opened the door, and disappeared inside.

“This is ridiculous,” Dad grumbled, stepping closer to Crystal and Tiberius. “I don’t know who she thinks she is butting back into your lives, but I’ve had enough of this—and I’m not the one on the receiving end of this curse.”

Tiberius’ arms tightened slightly around Crystal’s shoulders.

Her father looked up at her mate, his brows pinched in the middle. “I don’t know what you did to warrant this curse, and I never questioned you about it, but I’m not happy with the effects it has had on Cricket.”

Tiberius growled. Crystal could feel the vibrations of it against her back, raising the hairs on her nape to stand on end.

“Dad, you don’t need to remind him,” Crystal said.

“I’m still your father and am allowed to be upset with what happened. I watched you suffer for years, Cricket. Have you any idea how hard it was for your ma and me to witness that and not be able to do anything to fix it?”

Crystal watched her father’s frustration fizzle out. His shoulders slumped as he uncrossed his arms and glanced at the tea kettle on the counter.

She never thought about how hard her condition had to be on her parents. Sure, she knew they worried about her, but that was what parents did regardless. She always felt like a burden to them. She didn’t stop to think about how helplessness had gripped them, unable to stop the seizure-like panic attacks and wanting to help her get her wolf and being unable to do so.

A lump formed in her throat. “I’m sorry, Dad.”

“Don’t apologize, Cricket. It wasn’t your fault. But everything will be fixed soon, right, son?”

Her heart swelled at her father’s words. Even though Tiberius hadn’t been with them long, having the first male who loved her accept the second male who would love her until the day she died meant more than she thought it would.

But then, a few weeks ago, she never thought she’d have a mate or much of a future worth living either.

A throat cleared and all eyes turned to Master Mandala standing in the bedroom doorway.

“Sorry to interrupt, but Catherine will see Tiberius now.”

That earned a snarl from her mate.

“He’s not going anywhere without his mate by his side,” Dad clarified. “And I don’t want my daughter anywhere near that witch.”

“She has no strength,” Master Mandala replied. “She can’t even get out of bed, never mind cast a spell strong enough to harm a fly.”

Crystal swallowed. She knew what that was like. She looked at her father. He remained expressionless even though he knew what that was like from Master Mandala’s position.

“It’s okay, Dad,” she assured him. “Tiberius won’t let anything happen to me.”

A soft nose pressed against her neck and she reached up to brush her fingers through his fur under his ear.

She wondered what Tiberius was thinking and feeling right now. If only she knew what happened with Catherine, she could understand better what thoughts and feelings were running through him. After all, lycans had strict laws that prohibited them from having relations with humans—of the supernatural variety or not, like witches. Everyone in the non-human world knew that.

Her father sighed and grumbled unintelligibly under his breath as he looked away.

She slipped away from Tiberius’ arms and gave her father a hug. She pressed a kiss to his cheek and whispered her love before pulling away and returning to her mate’s side.

He pressed his forehead to hers, his throat rumbling softly, as he brushed his clawless paws through her hair. In the short amount of time since meeting him, she had come to understand the way he spoke to her through actions alone. When she looked up into his eyes, she felt his love and reassurance pouring off of him and a calmness relaxed and eased the anxiety she harbored.

“Let’s go see her,” she whispered to him.

She reached up to bring his paws down from her hair and gripped one with both of her small hands. She reminded herself to be strong as they walked to the bedroom and stepped inside.

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