Cursed By Destiny Page 88

That pretty much summed it up. The ruins and destruction of the mountain surrounded us, yet not a trace of Ihuaivulu remained. “Damn,” I said quietly.

Tye didn’t respond, choosing instead to rub his thumbs against my hands. Ash covered both our bodies. Unfortunately, it did little to hide my goodies. I yanked my arms back and changed. He shook his head once before resuming his lion form. We sprinted back to camp, his cheer making him playful. He rubbed up against me, tickling me enough to cause me to purr. I swatted at him and he nipped at me teasingly. We continued our banter all the way back. I took it as good-natured fun until we reached our friends and he changed back.

“Celia, if you ever change your mind . . . you know where to find me.”

“Get in line,” Misha hissed. He and my loved ones embraced me and patted my back. I searched for Aric, but failed to see or scent him.

Gemini bent to scratch my furry face and whisper in my ear. “He’s in the woods immediately to my right.”

I shifted and traveled as far into the forest as I could manage, then used my nose to track Aric. I found him wrapped in a blanket, staring pointedly at the ground. I changed back to human and hurried toward him. Tears dripped down my face as I took in his disfigured features. “Aric.”

“I’ll understand if you don’t want to stay with me.”

My tears stopped their descent as I struggled to make sense of what he said. “What the hell are you talking about?”

He stepped away from me when I reached for him. What? All I wanted was to hold him.

“I’m saying you can choose Tye, Misha, or whoever else you desire. I just want you to be happy.”

I stumbled backward into a tree, stunned and barely able to keep my wits. My fist found the trunk and struck. Blood poured from my knuckles. “I’m happiest with you. Don’t you dare try to get rid of me again!”

“Celia, I know what I must look like—”

“Do you think your looks are all I care about? I love you, Aric—all of you.” After everything we’d been through and all our time apart, now he was pushing me away. I cried into my hands, releasing the fear and sadness I’d carried since first learning of his afflictions. My sobs turned into gulps, frantic gasps for air. My chest ached from the sharp intakes of breath and from the cruel stabs of his words.

He stepped toward me slowly and placed his battered palms on my arms. His garbled voice cracked when he spoke. “You still want me?”

I yanked him to me and met his lips with mine. He grunted in pain, but I refused to let him go. Instead, my kiss turned more passionate.

Aric wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me close, kissing me back with the love I knew so well. His skin scratched like rough and jagged plastic. He was no longer handsome or smooth or soft. The tease of tiny little chest hairs was gone, as was his sense of touch. There was no firm muscle, and he’d lost the mobility in his lips. He would never again greet me with the smile that made my soul sing. But he was still my Aric. His taste was just as sweet, his body just as warm, and his heart still beat for me.

He broke away, panting heavily, but this time not from pain. I stroked the side of his face as gently as possible. “I’ll always want you,” I whispered. “No matter what happens.”

Footsteps approached from the dense wooded path behind me. Aric covered me with his blanket and pulled me close. Tye leaned against a tree, wearing a pair of shorts and a rather amused grin. “You really don’t believe in Destiny. Do you, dovie?”

I tightened my hold on Aric and rested my head against his chest. “My destiny is in my hands, Tye.”

CHAPTER 31

Makawee examined Aric’s arms, her white brows knitted into a frown. “With Ihuaivulu’s return to his dormant state, the effects of his power should have ceased.” She shook her head. “I cannot comprehend why our weres are incapable of healing.”

Emme had tried to help Aric and Koda. She took away their remaining pain, but their scars would not dissolve.

Danny watched Makawee release Aric. Regret and sadness dulled his young features, making him appear years beyond his age. “What happened to the Tribesmen who were guarding the other stone? Maybe they can tell us something.”

Gemini stroked his thickening goatee with his thumb and forefinger. Aside from a few minor burns on his forearms and back, his body had been spared. “Most were incinerated by Ihuaivulu when they awoke him.”

“The Tribe weres who survived were given to the vampires,” Liam said, unable to hide his disgust.

“Hey, we were hungry,” a vamp called from a few tents down.

I moved toward Aric, then thought twice. Makawee, while sympathetic, would likely object to any contact. My arms weighed heavily from the urge to hold him as I faced her. “What about the witch who helped raise Ihuaivulu? Could she have—I don’t know—done something so they can’t heal?”

“I killed her, Celia.” Taran’s eyes skimmed over Aric’s and Koda’s forms. “The bitch deserved a lot worse.”

Shayna remained a permanent fixture on Koda’s lap. She wouldn’t talk, but when Koda lifted her chin, she flashed him a gleaming smile. It lacked its usual luster, yet was enough to curve one side of Koda’s mouth.

We followed Makawee outside to join the crowd of Alliance members that had gathered. I held back a little so I could walk beside Aric. I waited until she joined the Elders and Uri on a small incline before I spoke softly, “I just want to be alone with you.”

Aric lowered his head. “Now’s not a good time, love. But I’ll see what I can do.”

I blinked back tears. Since we’d returned from the forest, Aric had kept his distance. I understood why. We didn’t have the luxury to be together like Shayna and Koda. But he needed me at his side. Couldn’t the Elders grant us that much? I brushed my hand over his before stepping closer to Emme. Aric glanced down at his hand. Though his damaged face gave no indication of whether he appreciated the gesture, I hoped he had.

I wiped my eyes only to smear more of that wretched ash continuing to fall. My tigress paced with the need to abandon this wasteland and return to Aric. It took me a moment to soothe her enough to focus on the leaders and the words they were sharing with the gathering crowd. Martin and Uri thanked the survivors for their courage and sacrifice. Their words were hopeful and uplifting, and most of all sincere.

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