“Are you happy here, Tiberius?”
Tiberius tipped his cowboy hat up and squinted at his mother standing over him. Her head blotted out the sun, illuminating the edges of her lustrous dark brown hair and casting her face in shadow.
It crossed his mind how oddly symbolic her stance was and he smirked to himself before turning his attention away.
“You betcha,” he replied.
A peal of squeals rang out among the pups as the oldest male came running around the corner of the packhouse with a big water gun and spraying it on the two younger females prancing around the sprinkler with his two pups bouncing between their feet.
“Hey! No fair! Where’s my gun?” the male’s younger cousin shouted as she jumped away from the spray of water.
Tiberius’ eyes followed the two smaller bundles of brown fur, yipping excitedly as they darted after the older male’s feet and started nipping at his heels.
“Hey! Cut it out!”
“Silas. Sadie,” Tiberius growled in warning. [You know better. Teddy can’t heal like you.]
The twins winced before looking his way with apologetic eyes, one set a pale blue and the other green. Seeing their grandmother there, their tongues hung from the corners of their mouths as they rushed toward them, barking and yipping excitedly.
She kneeled down to scratch them both behind the ears as water dripped from their soft fur coats to the ground. The six-year-olds looked like 10-week-old wolf pups in that awkward stage when their legs started growing longer, but their bodies were still lean and not filled out.
They licked her face while the older two pups continued to play and the Alpha and Luna’s daughter shyly approached, looking like a 4-year-old human despite being a few weeks older than Tiberius’ pups.
Tiberius’ mother ignored the others, focusing her attention on her grandpups, making the Alpha and Luna’s daughter feel awkward.
Tiberius opened his arms to her and beckoned her, knowing it would make the pup happy and spite his mother in the process. [Come here, Thea.]
A smile lit up her sun-kissed face. She bobbed her blond head up and down and grabbed her pink towel before wrapping it around her shoulders and plunking herself on his lap.
“How was the meeting?” Tiberius asked his mother as he rubbed the pup’s shoulders dry.
“Alpha drives a hard deal.”
A slow grin spread across his face. “As he should.”
In the years since arriving at the Blauwald Pack and getting to know its members, Tiberius quickly learned not only how close-knit the small pack was, but how close the Alpha was with his grown pups. He wasn’t going to give up easily on his daughter, Gwen, and allow Tiberius’ parents to force her to join his brother, Lance, in Arizona if he could help it. Not only that, but both Lance and Luna Aubree were still training—Lance for a few more decades at least, and Aubree for a few more years. Gwen was still needed by the pack to finish training the new luna.
He noticed the luna’s improvement over the years, especially in physical strength and endurance. Even though she was hundreds of years younger than him, Tiberius saw wisdom growing within her as well.
Tiberius couldn’t help but respect his alpha for his love and devotion to his pups and everyone in the pack. It wasn’t something he was used to seeing and as the alpha gradually lowered his guard and opened up bit-by-bit to Tiberius, loyalty and understanding grew.
He now proudly bent his neck in submission to the male he once despised—knowing the truth that had been distorted over a hundred years that many lycans were still susceptible to deny.
Tiberius’ mother looked unimpressed with his remark. “A father needs to learn to let go.”
“Shows he cares enough to fight for those he loves,” Tiberius rebutted.
He was brought up to speed with the happenings of his younger brother since his arrival. Even got to talk to him many times and apologize for bullying Lance out of jealousy years ago.
The pup had a good head on his shoulders and a strong spirit. Tiberius hoped that in the coming years of his training, their father wouldn’t break it.
“It goes against tradition.”
Tiberius smirked to himself. “Last time I checked, tradition said that the lower ranking mate joined the higher ranking mate’s pack. Gwen was the former Luna. Can’t get much higher than that, huh?”
“Former Luna,” his mother reiterated as she stood back up.
Footsteps announced the coming of his mate and Luna before the Luna whistled to call the pups to attention.
He set Alethea down on the ground before rising to his feet as the pair of females stepped out of the packhouse with trays of food in their hands.
He flashed Crystal a smile as he reached for two towels and she grinned right back before setting her tray on the table and setting out the plates of food for the pups.
The two oldest pups darting around the yard turned from each other and ran toward Tiberius and accepted their towels from his hands.
“What’s for lunch, Luna?” Teddy asked as he wiped the water from his face.
Silas and Sadie shook the water from their fur before scampering to Crystal’s feet and whining for their lunch.
“Something that will make you big and strong,” Luna answered with heightened enthusiasm.
Teddy groaned as he wrapped his towel around himself and pulled out a chair. “Why can’t we eat something normal like macaroni and cheese?”
“We have that all the time. Besides, we had that yesterday and I told Uncle Trey that I would make you something good for you this time. You don’t hear the pups complaining, do you?”
“That’s because they’re weird,” Teddy said to which his cousin and Alethea huffed.
“We’re not weird, you are,” they announced in unison, then giggled and pointed at each other. “Jinx!”
Teddy frowned at the food on his plate while his cousin and Alethea started eating and Crystal set down two bowls full of the raw meat swimming in a pool of milk for their two pups. Tail wagging, Silas and Sadie immediately started gobbling up their lunch as Tiberius took his seat next to Teddy with his mother on his other side, Crystal beside her, Alethea next to her, Luna next to her, and Teddy’s cousin on his other side.
“Pork chops and onions?” Teddy asked, scrunching his nose up. “Uncle Trey made us pork chops two nights ago.”
“It’s not pork chops, stupid,” his cousin retorted.
“Alexandra, what have I said about name-calling?” Luna Aubree said in a firm tone.
Alexandra huffed and brushed her dripping wet curls behind her ears. “Sorry, Teddy.”
“Still…” Teddy said, trailing off as he poked the cut meat with his fork. “What is it?”
“Try it, it’s yummy,” Alethea said, half the cut pieces on her plate already eaten.
Teddy grumbled, stabbing a small square with his fork and putting it in his mouth. He made a face. “It’s weird. What is it?”
“Good, huh?” Tiberius said, quickly finishing the uncut slab on his plate and looking up hopefully at the Luna. “Got any more inside?”
“Of course. Haven’t cooked it yet though. You know it doesn’t take much time,” she answered, watching her daughter and Alexandra finishing their plates. “Who else wants more?”
Alexandra and Alethea both chimed up, while Teddy tentatively put another piece in his mouth.
Silas and Sadie both yipped for more with their tails wagging and tongues hanging out, milk dripping from their muzzles.
“Is it spam? Uncle Trey doesn’t make me eat spam,” Teddy asked, still uncertain if what he was eating was good or not.
“It’s beef liver,” Tiberius’ mother answered, her patience wearing thin with the human male.
Teddy’s caramel skin paled a shade as his dark eyes widened and he dropped his fork. “Ewww!”
“Mother,” Tiberius growled under his breath.
“What?” she scoffed. “The boy kept asking. Why not tell him the truth?”
“He has a more sensitive pallet,” Tiberius grumbled.
He knew very well that Teddy would reject the meal if he knew what it was. Luna was trying to make sure he ate better, knowing fully well herself that humans had mixed opinions on liver, even if it was highly nutritious and she soaked them in milk for a couple of hours to reduce the bitter flavor.
Rising from the table, Tiberius touched Teddy’s arm. “Come on, if you won’t eat liver, maybe we can find something else for you.”
Teddy pushed his plate away and pulled away from the table.
“If he won’t eat it, can I?” Alexandra asked.
Luna Aubree pulled the plate in front of her. “Go ahead. I’m going to make some more and cook something else for Teddy.”
Luna followed him into the kitchen while Crystal stayed behind to keep an eye on the pups and attempt a polite conversation with Tiberius’ mother, the Luna of the Rosmi Maana Pack.
[I apologize for my mother’s behavior,] Tiberius said to Luna Aubree through the mind-link, bending his neck slightly, his head down.
[It’s fine. I know how she is.] Luna sighed. [I’m very glad you chose to stay with us—for Crystal’s sake.]
She went to the stove while Tiberius went to the pantry and pulled open the doors to peer inside with Teddy next to him.
[I am too. She’s gotten stronger here.]
[You have too.]
[If by stronger, you mean wiser, I would agree.]
Luna hummed in agreement. [Strength comes in various forms.]
Teddy pointed to a box of macaroni and cheese, of course. The kid would live off that stuff if someone let him.
“Macaroni okay, Luna?” Tiberius asked.
He could tell by the edge if her tone that she was not happy, but the kid had to eat something and macaroni was better than nothing.
[We’ve spoiled him,] Tiberius told her privately as he brought the box of noodles over to her.
[I know. We need to sit Trey down and come up with an action plan. Teddy will be a teenager in a few years and can’t continue to eat nothing but macaroni, hot dogs, and other garbage.]
Tiberius set the box of noodles on the counter and turned to find a pot. Seeing Teddy behind him, he assured the young male that he could go back outside with the others.
He watched the pup leave before filling the pot with water and setting it on a back element on the stove.
“I got it,” Luna said as she carefully placed more liver, lightly coated in flour and seasoning, on the hot frying pan. “Wanna help Crystal bring in the bowls and plates?”
He nodded and set out.
He caught the look of relief on his mate’s face immediately and was struck by the fact that his mother made her so uncomfortable, she couldn’t stand being near her for even a few minutes.
“Cris, would you mind helping me to bring the bowls and plates back in?”
She nodded and bent down to pet their twins on the heads before picking up their bowls.
Alethea and Alexandra had finished their plates and he picked them up to take them in.
[You go ahead and help Luna, Beautiful. I’ll stay with the pups,] he said.
She kissed his cheek, taking the plates from his hands. [Thank you.]
He sat down between his mother and Teddy. She watched his pups play fighting, already bored and unable to wait patiently for more food.
The three pups at the table were growing restless too, shifting their weight in their seats and groaning in exasperation.
Tiberius’ mother ignored the oldest three at the table and beckoned his twins to her side to fawn over them.
He knew her behavior wasn’t just biased toward his pups but also because she was also uncomfortable with the three human-like pups, unsure how to treat them because lycans were born in wolf-form not human form like the other three (although Teddy was one hundred percent human, the pack didn’t want to alienate him from his cousin, Alexandra).
He tried to engage the oldest three sitting at the table in conversation so they didn’t feel ignored until Crystal and Luna Aubree returned with more liver that the pups eagerly gobbled up and were permitted to play again. Teddy’s macaroni came out shortly after and he hurried to eat it so he could return to playing with them.
Luna Aubree and Tiberius’ mother left to join their mates after eating the last of the liver with Crystal and Tiberius, while they watched the pups.
Crystal sat on his lap, curling up in his arms with a smile on her face as the pups once more played in the sprinklers between kicking a soccer ball around and throwing a frisbee.
“Is this how you pictured your life ten years ago?” he asked Crystal softly as his fingers gently caressed her arm.
“You know I didn’t. It is better than I thought it would be when we came here eight years ago.”
“I know I never imagined this. There’s a sense of freedom in this pack that I never thought I’d feel.”
She hummed in agreement. “We made a good choice.”
Author’s Note: Thanks for reading HEART OF A BEAST, the 4th book in the HEART OF STONE Series (after the HoS Trilogy). The Series continues with Gavin's story HEART OF A KNIGHT (Coming soon), from which we will see who some of these mystery characters are.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Jo Lee HuntWrite a Review