Chapter 30 - Tiberius (Part 1)
The shift was excruciating.
Tiberius’ knees buckled and he collapsed to the ground as pain shot through his skull. He cried out in a roar as he clutched his head. His bones snapped and cracked as his muscles turned to jello and shifted position to accommodate the transformation from beast to man.
He could sense Crystal there with her mother at her side to keep her grounded and pull her out of arm’s length as he thrashed about on the ground, howling in agony.
It was almost as bad as his first shift, and after an hour, he fell still, lying weak and breathless and coated in dirt.
When the pain subsided, warmth engulfed him. He pried open his heavy eyes and blinked several times before the world came back into focus.
His head was in her lap, her fingers brushing through his hair, and a blanket covering him from the shoulders down. Rhonda had disappeared. It was just him and his mate out there with a few birds singing off in the distance.
“Hey there, cowboy. You’re a lot hairier than I thought you’d be.”
His tongue swiped out to lick his dry lips as he grinned. “I reckon that’ll happen after not shaving for a few years.”
His voice was hoarse, but it didn’t surprise him. He hadn’t been able to use his vocal cords in a year.
Looking up, he beheld the most beautiful sight he would ever gaze upon and would have the joy of gazing upon for the rest of his life.
There was love, pride, and joy shining in those blue-green gemstones.
He couldn’t believe it. She said those three little words and finally broke the curse.
He thought he heard her wrong. When he didn’t immediately shift, his heart broke. She didn’t love him. Couldn’t love him. He’d be stuck like this until the day they died—unable to touch her with human hands, unable to kiss her, unable to make love to her, unable to seal the matebond, and unable to have pups and a life together forever.
But it happened. The moment she chased after him and went to comfort him, he saw it in her eyes.
She felt it. She felt their bond and gasped when his eyes met hers and a second later, the first bolt of pain struck through his skull and the shift began.
His muscles were hardening now, but he was still weak and tired from the exertion of shifting. Despite that, he reached up, fighting against the pull of gravity, and brushed the back of his fingers across her cheek and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
Her cheeks lit up like he knew they would. It would take some time for her to accept and get used to it, but that meant more blushes that would warm his heart.
Besides, it was true. She was beautiful. She couldn’t see it yet, but someday, she would. He’d make sure of it.
“You had me worried there,” he confessed. “I thought you said the magic words without meaning them.”
Her brows furrowed. “How could I...”
She trailed off as warmth flooded over her face again as she put the puzzle pieces together. She leaned into his palm and closed her eyes as he pressed it to her burning cheek. Her heart was dancing an ecstatic rhythm, matching his own in pace and tempo.
“We did it, Beautiful. You did it. The curse is broken. I couldn’t tell you how to break it because those three little words had to come from your heart.” He grinned. “Now I can finally claim what’s mine.”
He pushed himself up and captured her lips.
She froze as fireworks exploded within him. His heart burst, the shockwaves reaching out to his fingertips and down to his toes. Her lips were soft, the kiss chaste, and she relaxed a couple of seconds later as her heart thundered in his ears.
He didn’t have the strength to hold himself for long and eased himself back down to her lap ten seconds later and grinned at the beet-red face brimming with tears above him. He caressed her cheek with his thumb.
“I love you, Cris. You have my ruhi—my heart and soul—and nothing in this world is going to tear me away from you.”
“Not even Catherine?”
He understood why she would ruin the moment by bringing up that witch. He didn’t blame her and wanted to put the matter to rest so they would never have to worry about her again.
“Nope. Not even her. I’ll kill her if she even looks at you in a threatening way. I’m yours and you’re mine. No one can change that.”
“Did you… have sex with her?”
He couldn’t help the shudder that shook him at the thought of mating with anyone other than Crystal. “No. We made out, I can’t deny that. But the potion started wearing off after a few days, and I don’t think she anticipated that. The day before it wore off, I could feel something wasn’t right. I was starting to come back to my senses. The burning desire was less, but she kept kissing me and…”
He trailed off as bile crept up his throat. The memory of her wasn’t one he wanted to remember, yet he could never forget it. “She tried to get me to come to her bed, but I knew my father was waiting for me at home. I think he was starting to suspect something because he commented that I smelled different. I came to my senses in the early morning and figured out that I had been under some kind of spell. I was pissed. What’s worse was that I couldn’t tell anyone about it. I had to deal with it on my own.
“I didn’t even wait until the sun rose. I went out to hunt her down and found her trailer in one of the campgrounds and confronted her. I think that was when she knew something was different about me. That I wasn’t entirely human then.”
Catherine’s horror-stricken face flashed in his mind. The sun had been creeping up on the horizon then. The sky was on fire, blazing behind him when he tore into the trailer. He’d been furious, barely holding himself in human form as he challenged her, demanding answers as his fur pressed against his flesh and his nails bit into his palms.
“After she confessed to the love potion, I threatened to kill her if she ever crossed my path again. I left, barely keeping myself from murdering her right then and there. I didn’t see her the rest of the day and I thought that would be it.”
He shook his head. “She appeared again the day after. Stepped out of the crowd of tourists. I immediately called for backup. I knew I would need someone to hold me back from killing her then and there with all those humans around, but they didn’t get there fast enough.”
He swallowed. “She told me that she loved me and she didn’t care what I was. I told her I hated her, that I could never love her, and wanted nothing to do with her—that I’d kill her if she didn’t leave me alone. I called her every name I could think of in English, Italian, and Spanish. She grew angrier and angrier, demanding to know why I wouldn’t give her a chance. That I had better reconsider and give her a chance or she’d do something to make me regret ever turning her away.”
He shook his head. “That’s when she whipped out her wand and cast the curse. Her back was to the crowds in the distance, so no one noticed. I didn’t feel anything at first and laughed at her. Ridiculed her. Told her she was crazy and that she had better leave now. This was her last chance. My backup was coming up fast on horseback behind me.
“She told me that if I didn’t fall in love with her and tell her I loved her, then I had to find the one who would before the next lunar eclipse or I would perish. That my body and soul would rot from the inside out. That the darkest parts of me would surface and I would one day be trapped in my true nature so I would repulse others and no one would love me for who I was.”
That felt like a hundred years ago. Everything had changed from that moment. He messed up more, struggled more, fought more with his packmates and family, and became more of an asshole to everyone around him—including himself.
“I was on the path to self-destruction before I found you, Crystal. I never imagined that my mistake could have hurt you too. That’s the part that kills me. I did this to you. I turned you against yourself.” He swallowed, choking back the guilt that blocked his throat. “I’m the one who doesn’t deserve you. I didn’t deserve the chance to get to know you, to be with you, to love you—but you gave me that chance anyway. I have the rest of my life to make it up to you. You gave me back my life, but more than that, you gave me a future better than I could have ever imagined with you in it.”
“Is that why you still feel guilty? Because you think you did this to me?” She shook her head lightly. “Tiberius, you were targeted by a horrible person. Even if you had stayed with Catherine for whatever reason, she would have used you and manipulated you. She didn’t care about you because you don’t do that to the people you love. It’s not your fault. It’s her fault. And like you said, you didn’t know it would affect me too, so stop blaming yourself. Okay?”
He understood what she was saying, but he couldn’t stop the guilt that continued to gnaw away within him. Maybe someday, he could let it go, but until then, he would have to deal with it.