Chapter 36 - Crystal (Part 1)
Crystal’s heart hurt as she watched Tiberius storm out of the backyard.
She wanted to chase after him, but her father urged her to give him some space.
Rubbing her arms, she paced back and forth on the deck, not knowing what to do with herself and unable to sit down and relax with her mind running a mile a minute and Tiberius’ mind closed firmly from her.
“I don’t understand why everyone hates Stone so much,” she mumbled, glancing at her father without meeting his gaze. “He’s Aubree’s mate and she loves him a lot and looked so happy with him at the wedding.”
“He’s a controversial male, Cricket,” Dad said. “He became even more controversial when he and Aubree sealed their bond. You remember what happened last year.”
Holding herself, she nodded and looked out over the pool to the far end of the backyard. “Aubree explained everything to me. She’s so strong. Their world is so harsh.”
“The lycan world will be your world soon,” Dad said. “And I think the Blauwald Pack will be the best fit for you both, if you can help your mate see that. Don’t forget that his family just rejected him. He’s hurting right now. It’s going to take some time for him to come to terms with that.”
She nodded again and resumed pacing, not sure what to do with herself when she wanted nothing more than to run after her mate. She wanted to comfort him as much as to ask him why he hated Stone so much. Admittedly, she didn’t know the alpha personally, only what Aubree disclosed to her, but he was kind enough to her during their brief interaction at the wedding. Even her brother and sister were still not sure what to make of the male, but as long as he treated Aubree right and followed the Lycan Code, there was no reason for them to hate him.
“I’m going to take Bruce out for a walk,” she mumbled.
She walked the German Shepherd up and down the streets of the gated packland, but didn’t see Tiberius anywhere. She reached through the mind-link and pressed into his mind to ask him if he was okay and was relieved when he let her in and told her he was fine and needed to be alone for a bit.
Returning home, she let the dogs out to play for a couple of hours until her father fired up the barbecue and she went inside to prepare a salad.
Relief washed over her when Tiberius returned as she was setting the salad on the patio table and wrapped her arms around his waist. He held her close, burying his nose in her hair and heaving a sigh.
He stayed silent during dinner, which made Crystal nervous and wanting to ask him questions but told herself to wait until he was ready to talk about them.
When they were alone again, he built a small campfire in the firepit and spread a blanket out on the ground. She sat down on the blanket and watched him build the fire until he was satisfied and then made himself comfortable behind her, wrapping his arms around her and burying his nose in the crook of her neck.
“Are you okay?” she ventured.
He swallowed. “Yeah.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, but I know I should.”
“We don’t have to talk about it tonight if you don’t want to. There’s always tomorrow.”
“I…” he trailed off, heaving a sigh and brushing his fingers over her arms, making her shiver. “I never thought they would refuse my return. I mean, I thought about it, hoped it wouldn’t happen…”
“I know. Me too.”
“I don’t know what to do, Beautiful.”
His anguish seeped into her bones despite the warmth of the fire against her flesh.
“We’ll think of something,” she said, leaning into his embrace and tilting her head up to nuzzle his neck.
The ache within her lessened a bit, but it still wrapped around her heart and lungs, constricting like a snake and making it harder to breathe.
They stayed like this for several minutes, neither one saying anything, nor pressing into the other’s mind, and simply listening to the soothing sound of their hearts beating in sync.
Crystal began thinking about the Blauwald Pack. Her thoughts swirled with questions regarding Stone and why everyone hated him. She never pressed Aubree for details, but Aubree told her that everyone judged Stone for a mistake he made many years ago—one that still haunted him. She didn’t feel right asking if Aubree didn’t volunteer the information. It seemed too personal the moment Aubree said it was a mistake that still haunted her mate.
But it seemed like everyone knew the details—everyone but Crystal.
“What’s wrong, Beautiful?” he asked, dipping his head over her shoulder and rocking her gently from side to side. “I need you to be strong for me.”
She hesitated, remembering how he stormed away earlier that day. “Promise you won’t get angry?”
He hesitated. “I’ll try.”
Heaving a sigh, he stopped rocking and held her close. “Okay, I promise.”
The softness of his voice urged her to toe that invisible line. “Why do you hate Alpha Stone?”
“Don’t you know, Cris? He killed an innocent life.”
“What if it was an accident?”
“He’s still a murderer.”
Crystal fell silent.
“You can’t be thinking about submitting to that male and joining their pack,” he accused.
“He can’t be all bad,” she countered. “I mean, why would his family stand by his side if he’d done something so horribly wrong, when your family refused to stand by your side when you left to find me?”
It was his turn to fall silent now.
“I think, maybe…” she hesitated, not sure how to word her thoughts. “Maybe he’s not as bad as everyone makes him out to be? If what happened was an accident that he still regrets, he can’t be as bad as you think if his family chose to stand by him. I mean, we all make mistakes. Some mistakes are worse than others, but should we be judged for the rest of our lives for making those mistakes? My best friend turned her back on me, taunted, teased, and made fun of me when I didn’t shift like everyone else. She didn’t know why I couldn’t shift. It made me hate myself and want to… you know…”
She swallowed, looking down at the ground before her. “If I did take my life, that would have been a mistake no one could undo or fix. I mean, I know it’s not the same thing as murder, but Stone’s case was an accident, meaning he didn’t intend to do it, whereas mine would have been…”
She trailed off, shame once again biting into her for ever having thoughts like that.
“You will never feel like that again, Cris,” he whispered into her ear. “I won’t allow it.”
“I know, but the point I’m trying to make is about intention. You had to leave to find me. If you never found me, we both would have died, but not only that, I was planning to take my life if I didn’t shift into my wolf after my nineteenth birthday. Finding each other changed all that. I’m so ashamed I ever felt like that or had those thoughts. I know now how much that would have devastated everyone I love and I didn’t even think about how my actions would have affected them. An accident is an accident. Murder and suicide are deliberate, conscious acts.”
She chewed on her bottom lip, playing her words back in her mind and trying to think of anything to add or clarify her thoughts better.
She felt no ill-will toward Stone. He suffered much like she had.
Why couldn’t Tiberius see that?
“So, what do you want, Cris?”
There was a gravelly edge in his voice as if he knew what she was leading up to and didn’t like it.
She knew she had to go there, though. What choice did they have?
“I think we should give the Blauwald Pack a chance. Aubree is great and I know she’ll accept us. Stone can’t be that bad if he’s her mate and his family stayed by his side.”
She swallowed as silence fell once more. She could feel his emotions warring within him, but he didn’t pull away from her.
She turned to look up at him. “Tiberius?”
“I’ll think about it.”
She nodded. “I’m open to suggestions, but I know I can trust Aubree with my life and well-being. She’ll care about me more than anyone else outside my family.”
“I’ll think about it.”
She decided to drop it for now and turned her attention to the flames that danced hypnotically before them, letting her thoughts and worries slip away for a moment of peace in her mate’s strong embrace.