Sealed with a Curse Page 30

Like an idiot, I went over. “Celia!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “For the last time, I will not have sex with you!”

Danny peeled away before it cost him a roommate. I looked for Mrs. Mancuso, and she did not disappoint. From the base of her porch steps she flashed me the stiffest, meanest finger ever.

Aric couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “What a horrible woman.”

“Yes, she is.”

We meandered toward Tahoe. While most of the neighborhood remained well lit by street lamps or lighting installed to show off elaborate landscaping, only the stars blinking through the branches illuminated the path to the lake. Like Aric, I could see in the dark, and I was tough. But darkness usually made me edgy, especially after playtime at Zhahara’s. With Aric by my side, though, the instinct to be overly alert seemed unnecessary.

We crossed the main road and headed toward the beach. The clouds spread apart, and a full moon broke through as our feet hit the sand. “You seem in charge of the wolves, but at the same time, I can tell you’re close with them.”

Aric focused ahead, though nothing approached. “Gem, Koda, and Liam are more like brothers than friends. At the same time, they are my Warriors. As I am their Leader, it’s their job to protect me with their lives if necessary.”

I jumped over a sand castle that had begun to crumble and thought about what he said. “So, one day, they could possibly die for you?”

“Yes, one day I could lose them.”

Aric’s comment bothered me. I’d never allow my sisters to die for me. “Then why did you choose them?”

Aric slowed to a stop. “I didn’t, Celia. They volunteered. It’s an honor to be named a Warrior. Only our best fighters are granted that title.” He pushed the hair from his eyes. “What those knuckleheads don’t realize is that they honor me by standing at my side.” He sighed. “Nor do they realize that I would also die for them.”

“There’s nothing like family, huh? Even one you’ve made for yourself.”

“No. Nothing at all.” He flicked the silver Native American earrings I wore. When I laughed, he did it again.

His teasing made me want to throw my arms around him. “You’re lucky they aren’t gold.”

Aric curled his upper lip in disgust. “Yeah, just another way the vampires screwed us.”

“What do you mean? Gold is their kryptonite, too.”

“You don’t know the legend?”

“There’s a lot I still don’t know about the supernatural world.” I smiled softly. “Will you teach me?”

Aric’s eyes zeroed in on my lips. “Ah…yeah. Sure.”

He paused. At first I didn’t think he was going to say anything. But then he cleared his throat. “When the world was still new and magic was at its strongest, a witch fell in love with a vampire. The vamp didn’t love her in return. He loved his gold and the power it granted him. So the witch cursed the gold, believing if she couldn’t have her love, he couldn’t have his.”

Aric was so tall I had to wrench my neck in order to see his face. That face of his, though, was worth the effort.

“The curse, fueled by the witch’s anger and bitterness, was powerful enough to extend to all preternaturals. None of us can hold gold without it making us sick. If we’re shot in the heart with a gold-tipped bullet, it’s like an atom bomb going off in our chests.”

I winced. “Have you ever been shot with gold bullets?”

“Yeah, it burns like a mother.” He regarded me once more. “Does gold affect you?”

“No. But bullets in general do.” I kicked at the sand. “I wouldn’t need one dipped in gold to kill me.”

Aric’s tone grew hard. “Well, then, let’s make sure that never happens.”

I smiled a little. “Yes. To either one of us.”

As we veered away from the water’s edge, Aric spoke again. “Is most of your family out here?”

Aric asked a simple question—had I lived an average life. “The family I know and love is here.” I elaborated when he frowned. “It’s just been my sisters and me for a long time. We’re estranged from our family.”

Aric tensed. “Even your parents?”

I concentrated on how little my human feet disturbed the sand. It was easier than the emotions the deaths of my parents riled. Aric didn’t push me to speak. Perhaps that’s why I chose to. “My parents were murdered during a home invasion. We went into foster care when both sides of the family refused to take us.”

Aric’s body blocked my path. “My God, Celia. Were you…safe?”

I averted my gaze from his, unable to keep the shame from invading my voice as it shook. “No. Not at first. But eventually we found a foster mother who loved and cared for us. Ana Lisa…made everything okay…for a while.”

Aric’s compassion permeated his aura, warm enough to heat my skin through my sweater. “I want to help you. Tell me who hurt you.”

“You don’t have to worry about that…they’re all gone now.”

The absoluteness of my tone made it clear I’d played a strong part in their departure. That in itself should have sent him bolting. It didn’t. His compassion continued to sizzle against me. So did something else….

“Good,” he murmured.

We walked in silence for a long while. He, like me, didn’t seem the type to fill the quiet with worthless ramblings. I liked that. I liked him. And the soft smiles he flashed me made me think that perhaps he liked me, too.

When we reached the rockier part of the beach something stirred behind a large boulder. I prowled along the sand to investigate, but Aric stepped in front of me. When he snarled, a guy jumped out. I could tell by his scent he was a wereweasel. He smelled…sleazy. I didn’t know what he was doing until he took a picture of us and ran.

Aric watched him disappear into the night. “What the hell was that about?”

Resentment burned deep in my stomach. “Since vamp court, every kind of supernatural beastie has shown up to get a look at us.”

“Tell me you’re joking.”

I shook my head. “It’s really annoying. That was the first photo, though. I’ll kick his ass if I ever see him again.”

“No. If you see him again, you tell me. I don’t want anyone bothering you or your family.”

I hid my shock and continued walking. I couldn’t understand why Aric had taken on the role as my savior, especially after I survived the predator showdown at Zhahara’s without him. “Don’t you know by now I can take care of myself?”

Aric’s face hardened. “I don’t deny you’re tough or that you can fight. You have to be to endure the shit you have. But stop feeling like you have to rely on yourself all the time. I’m around now, Celia. You’re no longer alone.”

Despite how his words made me swoon, I refused to fall at his feet. At least, for the moment. “Why do you feel the need to protect me?” I asked softly.

His expression remained serious, yet he nudged me playfully and made me lose my balance. “I told you. You’re an innocent.”

Aric’s confidence, chivalry, and pure sexiness drew me to him like magnet. My tigress should have questioned or resisted his gallantry, but his wolf also attracted my beast. I coughed to hide a come-hither purr and scaled a large boulder. I breathed in Tahoe’s soothing aroma, trying my best to stay calm and not pounce on him like a werepoodle in heat. Must not tackle big, hunky werewolf.

Thunder cracked in the far, far distance, and the air filled with the sweet fragrance of witches’ magic. Aric joined me on the boulder, crouching when I did. He adjusted his position so he could sit, all the while keeping his eyes on me. “Tell me more about you.”

I sat next to him and hugged my knees against me, mostly to keep from squirming. “What do you want to know?”

“The same thing I’ve wanted to know since I met you. What are you, Celia? You’re a mortal of magic, but I’ve never met anyone like you.”

Being the center of attention had never appealed to me. That was Taran’s job. Yet Aric’s deep, gentle, voice made it all right to speak, and so did the way his knuckles grazed along my arm. “To be honest, Aric, I don’t know what I am.” I watched his hand as it continued to stroke along the length of my limb. “You come from a family of weres—a were mother, a were father.” He nodded, despite his obvious uncertainty where my train of thought headed. “My sisters and I come from human parents with no trace of magic. I guess you can say we’re the products of a backfired curse.”

Aric stopped rubbing my arm. A strong breeze swept some strands of hair across my face. I didn’t bother pushing them aside, preferring to hide my face. My uniqueness bothered me then more than ever. But since I’d already begun to explain, I thought I owed it to Aric to finish. “My mother was born in El Salvador. She moved to the U.S. when she was four years old. Most of her family didn’t like her. She had lighter skin and eyes, and I think they resented her for fitting in so well with the American culture. When she married my dad, a Caucasian American, they disowned her.”

“For marrying outside her race.” It wasn’t a question. Aric understood based on his pureblood heritage.

“Yes. When Mom became pregnant with me, one of her crazy aunts showed up at the door and cursed her unborn children. But instead of harming us, the curse gave us our special gifts.” I twisted my hair until it rested against my shoulder in one long curl, waiting for Aric to say something, and petrified my “weirdness” would affect his opinion of me. When the worry became too much I stole a glance at his face. “Does it bother you not knowing what I am?”

Aric’s intensity spread into the warmth of his soft smile. His hand swept around my neck, separating the strands of my long waves. He played with them until they fell wildly against my back and shoulders. “I don’t care what you are,” he muttered. “I like what I see. You’re beautiful, Celia….”

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