Chapter 27 - Tiberius
The room was small and dim with thick curtains drawn over the closed window. A heavy stench hung in the air and Crystal gagged on it.
Tiberius recoiled at first, coughing against the bile that shot up his throat. Curling his lips back, he gritted his teeth and breathed through his mouth as he entered and paused a foot in.
A single bed with layers of old handmade quilts leaned up against the left wall. A little table stood by the head of it with an empty glass perched on top. A small antique dresser stood against the opposite wall with a vase of wilting red roses on top of it and a worn rug in the middle of the wooden floor. Potted shade-loving plants lined the edges of the walls. The room was otherwise bare of decoration and personality.
“Tiberius?” a weak voice called from the bed.
His throat rumbled in response. The disgust seeped from between his clenched teeth as the voice called out again, confused and a little put-off.
He stood back as Crystal approached the woman in the bed.
He didn’t want to see Catherine. The smell of her made his stomach turn. Memories flashed through his mind and he clenched his paws into fists as his blood began to boil with rage.
"You.” The accusation in that single word made Crystal flinch when she reached the side of the bed. “I didn’t ask for you. I asked for Tiberius.”
A snarl ripped through him as he rushed forward and pulled his mate away.
Crystal shouldn’t have to face her, but he wanted to make sure Catherine knew her place.
He belonged with Crystal and only Crystal. Nothing Catherine said or did would ever change that.
You could at least be civil! he mentally raged as he pulled Crystal against him and smoothed his paw over her head.
Her heart was racing and when he peered down into her eyes, she wouldn’t meet his gaze. His chest tightened.
Catherine gasped as he growled and pressed Crystal’s face to his chest.
“Tiberius? Is that you?”
He growled as he looked down at her lying flat on her bed.
Catherine had been beautiful at one point, almost a mirror reflection of her father the last time Tiberius saw her, but now she was merely skin and bone waiting for Death to claim her. Skin stretched across protruding cheekbones. Sunken eyes ringed in shadows added to her skeletal appearance as her thin body was completely covered in quilts. No spark of life peered up through heavy lids as her brows knotted at the sight of him.
“Shift for me, baby,” she said.
Crystal stiffened and Tiberius was ready to throw the witch against the wall. The rage within him surged forward with a roar that made the window rattle and Alexander to rush in.
The whimper in his arms snapped his attention back to his mate instead of the monster a few feet away.
His muscles relaxed and he pulled away, examining Crystal with his eyes and nose as her father huffed from the doorway.
“Honestly, son. If you can’t check yourself—”
Tiberius cut him off with a sharp growl as Crystal’s scrunched up face relaxed and the hurt that met him drew forth a whimper of apology. He pulled her gently to his chest and nuzzled her hair with his nose as he caressed her head with one paw and her back with the other.
I’m sorry, Beautiful. I didn’t mean to hurt you or scare you. It’s just... His throat rumbled in disgust. She has no fucking right to call me ‘baby.’ Ever.
“Maybe Cris should wait out here with us?” Alexander suggested.
“It’s okay, Dad,” Crystal replied despite the tremble in her voice. “I’ll leave if Tiberius wants me to.”
Tiberius huffed and nuzzled deeper into the crook of her neck. Stay. I need you to keep myself from ripping her apart.
“Alright, then.” Alexander didn’t sound too convinced, but he stepped back and the door clicked shut.
Crystal swallowed and her heart picked up a bit in speed. Tiberius could feel an inkling of heat rise off her with her temper spiking.
“He can’t shift,” she told Catherine as she pulled Tiberius’ arm down from her head and turned to face the older woman. “You did that to him. You locked him in his beast form and he can’t speak. You’ll have to speak to me instead. And don’t ever call him baby again, or else I won’t hold him back next time. You hear me?”
“You’ll both die if you kill me,” Catherine replied. “I bear the full brunt of the curse and killing me will result in your own destruction as well.” She smirked. “You’re both still alive because of me. You need me just as much as I need you.”
Cursing, Tiberius growled as he tried to steer Crystal back against his chest, but she was adamant to stand before Catherine as her anger simmered under the surface.
“We don’t need you,” Crystal whispered.
"Au contraire, you do. If I die, you both will die.”
“And if I died or Tiberius died?” Crystal said through gritted teeth.
“If either one of us dies, then we all die. Until you say the magic words, we are all bound together by this curse.”
Tiberius growled to silence Catherine. She merely quirked her brows in question at him before turning her gaze back to Crystal.
Crystal had stiffened at the mention of “magic words.” Her breath caught in her throat for a few seconds before she released it.
“You haven’t told her?” Catherine asked Tiberius, though her eyes were trained on Crystal.
“Told me what?”
“I suppose that’s kind of hard to do, seeing as he can’t speak, but I would have thought he’d find a way to tell you since you’re the only one who can break the curse between the three of us.” Catherine smiled, a smile that raised Tiberius’ hackles. “But I know why he didn’t. The magic words have to ring true, so keeping them from you is to prevent you from saying them without meaning them. But if you haven’t said them by now, then what hope do we have that you ever will?”
Tiberius lunged, snarling at Catherine as he pinned her to the bed.
Shut up! Just shut up!
The bedroom door swung up and banged against the wall before strong hands grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and pulled.
Alexander hauled him off as Tiberius swiped at the air before him, trying to grab Catherine as she coughed and gasped for air.
“Dammit, son! I told you to keep yourself under control!”
An icy cold blast of energy surged throughout him and he immediately froze in place as he struggled to throw Alexander off him.
“You can release him, Alexander. I have him under control,” Madame Papillon’s voice announced behind him. “He’s familiar with this spell and knows that once he calms down, he will be released from it.”
Alexander’s hands reluctantly released him and with them Tiberius’ desire to kill.
He crumpled to the floor, holding himself as the icy hold began to melt away.
His heart ached.
He ached to hear those three little words from Crystal. What if Catherine was right? What if Crystal never said them? He wanted to believe she would, that she was already in love with him now and so close to uttering them that they would come any day now.
But what if she didn’t say them? What if she couldn’t say them to a beast?
Crystal stood there. Stood there and watched on with wide eyes, her heart pounding and her breaths coming in rapidly.
He reached out to her, whining for her to comfort him, to understand, to say those three little words.
She just stood there and stared on.
Madame Papillon and Alexander shifted their gazes back and forth between them in the cramped little room. Even Master Mandala peered in from the doorway, craning his neck to look around.
“Well, seems they have all calmed down now. We should give them some space. Tea?” Master Mandala suggested.
Alexander growled, reminding Tiberius to watch himself before he and Madame Papillon shuffled out, leaving the three of them alone once more.
Frost gripped Tiberius’ muscles as he reached out to take Crystal’s hand. The numb-tingling sensation slowly spread through him as he took her hand between his paws and pressed it to his cheek.
Speak, Beautiful, he pleaded. Say something.
Her silence was deafening and he whined.
She didn’t move her hand, but she also didn’t move a muscle either. She stared at Catherine, her emotions crashing over him in waves. Fear, anger, anxiety, pain crushed him. Plunging down on him on his knees next to her, he willed her to speak or caress him, anything to reassure him that she was still on his side—that she still held feelings for him, even if she didn’t love him yet.
“See, baby? I told you your mate would never love you the way I do,” Catherine whispered. “Fall in love with me and we can break this curse together. We don’t need her.”
Cris, please! The ache within him constricted. He couldn’t breathe. His stomach lurched and threatened to spill its contents.
Was this Catherine’s plan all along? To try and turn his soulmate against him? To win his affections and break the curse she cast on him?
He didn’t want Catherine. He never did.
His whines turned to whimpers as he touched Crystal’s cheek. Don’t listen to her, Beautiful. Please. I don’t want her. I never did. I want you. I’ve always wanted you and I’ll only ever want you.
“You don’t know what love is,” Crystal uttered, “because if you did, you never would have cursed him.”
With that, Crystal pulled away from Tiberius and walked out of the room.
Tiberius watched her as dread began to fill him.
“Baby, it’s not like that—” Catherine began but was silenced by a snarl that made her shrink away.
You are nothing to me! He wanted to shout at her, shake some sense into her—anything to make her see that he did not want her and never did.
Turning his back on her, he stormed out of the room, but Crystal was nowhere to be seen.
“Outside,” her father grumbled from his seat at the table with a fresh, steaming cup of tea before him.
He nodded and hurried out the front door. He didn’t have to take two steps out to find her as she sat at the top of the steps of the porch, her head in her hands as she took deep breaths in and out.
She bristled when he closed the door and hurried down the steps. He followed close behind her, whining for her to look at him or say something.
She turned away and marched past the SUV to the narrow lane, walking briskly and avoiding looking at him.
He whined and stepped in front of her to get her to stop and look at him. When she buried her face in her hands, he gently pulled them away and cradled her cheeks in her palms.
She clenched her eyes shut as tears threatened to fall and took a shuddering breath. “Tiberius, I... I just need a moment right now, okay?”
His throat rumbled as he brushed her cheeks with his clawless thumbs. Talk to me, Beautiful.
Her bottom lip trembled as she struggled to swallow. “I... I need to know... What happened between you two.” She swallowed forcefully again. “But either way I see it... She gets away with it. And I...”
She sniffled as the tears spilled down her cheeks. “I hate her. I hate what she’s done. I hate that she’ll get away with it. When we break the curse... She’ll get her life back. And she... She doesn’t deserve it.”
She swallowed, trying to pull herself together, but the emotions kept spilling forth. “It’s not fair. Good people deserve to have good things. Bad people don’t. And she... She hasn’t changed, has she? She’s still calling you ′baby,′ like you’re hers and you’re not. You’re mine.”
There was a little emphasis on those last two words that made his throat rumble and lean down to press his forehead to hers.
Yes, Cris. I’m yours and always will be.