Sealed with a Curse Page 32

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A high-pitched sizzle followed a yelp and a snarl from Liam. Taran’s voice sounded muffled from beneath the bed. “You do anything to hurt my sister and I swear to God, I’ll fry your freaking snout off!”

“I don’t want to kill her,” Liam insisted. “I’m just worried she’ll attack Aric.”

“Celia would never hurt Aric.” Shayna may as well have told them I wanted to mount him with how hard the silence fell around the room. Heat rose from my twitchy nose to my bushy tail. Had I been human, I would have resembled a tomato with green eyes and big hair.

Gemini’s voice grew calm, like the discussion of how evil I was or whether I should be allowed to live never took place. “No one will hurt Celia. I promise. We just never met a shape-shifter with any trace of humanity left. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but the sister you know will soon leave you and fall into a pit of darkness so great, only a coldhearted killer with a thirst for power will remain.”

“Jesus,” Koda muttered from somewhere in the hall. “How many kills do you think she’s made?”

Taran’s voice stiffened. “She’s never killed anyone who hasn’t deserved it. And Celia is anything but coldhearted.” The back of my sisters’ feet appeared beneath the dust ruffle. I could almost picture them crossing their arms and scowling at them. “Maybe you should leave. Celia’s been humiliated enough.”

No one moved for the longest time. Finally, Aric’s big hiking boots stepped forward. “I apologize if we’ve offended you. Her…situation caught us off guard. Will you allow me through?” His voice rumbled with concern. “I just want to make sure she’s safe.”

Emme’s small feet parted, followed by Shayna’s and Taran’s. Aric peered beneath the bed skirt at my shaking form huddled in the corner. “She’s scared senseless.” His eyes softened. “She’s no shifter. I’m sure of it. She’s just…Celia.” He reached for me, but I scuttled farther into the corner. “It’s okay, sweetness. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“I’ve got an idea.” Liam hurried downstairs to the kitchen. When he came back, he stuck his head under the bed and poked me in the nose with a carrot.

Take that carrot and ram it up your ass, Liam.

Aric frowned. “Liam, get the damn carrot out of her face.”

Liam ignored him. “It’s okay, Aric. I got this one. Come on, little bunny. No one’s going to eat— Ouch!” He dropped the carrot when I bit him.

“She may look like a rabbit, but she’s still Celia. Don’t freaking patronize her,” Taran snapped at him.

Shayna spoke up. “Why doesn’t everyone head downstairs? Aric and I will look after Celia.” She stuck her thin arms under the bed. “Come on, dude.” I allowed Shayna to pull me out. She held me close and kissed the top of my head before placing me on the bed.

The wolves wouldn’t budge. Aric growled low and deep. “If she wanted to kill me, she would have tried long before now. Leave us. I don’t want her frightened.”

Gemini nodded once and led the others out. Taran and Emme followed, but not before Emme shot me a nervous glance.

Aric backed away and leaned against the dresser. I hoped it was just to give me space and not because I finally creeped him out. Shayna smiled at him. “When Celia was about nine years old, she got really sick. We thought she had the flu. We found out later she was undergoing some kind of magical growth spurt.” She took a seat next to me on the bed. “When she started feeling better, our parents took us to the zoo to pick up her mood. They had new tiger cubs, and we won an opportunity to pet them. When Celia touched the golden cub, she fell into a violent seizure, similar to the one downstairs.

“Our parents rushed her to the hospital. The doctors thought it had been related to her illness and released her after they did some neurological testing. That night she turned into a golden tigress more than three times her size.”

I still remembered that night vividly. My mother prayed and doused me with holy water. I was beyond terrified and sought comfort in my father’s arms. My large paws wrapped around him. Taran and Shayna kept yelling, “Don’t eat Daddy. Don’t eat Daddy!” I tried to talk, but all that came out were growls and roars. Despite the fear I sensed in my father, he helped calm me. “It’s okay, sweetheart. Daddy’s here.” My father had been my rock and my strength. His soothing words helped me to relax. As I calmed, I returned to my human form.

“She eventually learned to control her change,” Shayna continued. “But if an animal brushes against her and she isn’t prepared, she’ll turn into that animal.” She giggled. “That’s why we don’t own any pets. Although…if Celia could just walk around as a tigress all day long we could adopt a kitten. For some reason, another animal doesn’t force her change if she’s in her tigress form.”

“It’s probably because her beast is so strong.”

Shayna nodded. “Yeah. I guess that makes sense.”

Aric fixed his gaze on my small, furry form…and smiled with understanding no sane wolf should have gathered so quickly. “What about the other animals she’s come in contact with? Can she return to those forms?”

“No, dude.” Shayna rubbed my ears. “This is just temporary. Her tigress form is the only one she’s ever been able to control. We figured it’s because it was the first animal she touched after her magic-like illness.”

Aric’s smile faded. “So why isn’t she changing back now?”

Shayna pulled the small throw blanket from the edge of my bed so it covered me up to my neck. “When she’s scared or stressed, she can’t relax enough to change back. I think since you’re a wolf, her rabbit instincts are telling her to be afraid of you.”

“She has nothing to fear from me.”

My nose twitched. Except for heartbreak and further humiliation.

Shayna rubbed the area between my ears and spoke softly. “Then why did Liam think he may have to kill her? And why did the others try to protect you?”

Aric kept his eyes on me. “They mistook her for a shape-shifter. Shape-shifters are born witches and spend years making blood sacrifices to command any form of their choosing.”

Shayna stopped rubbing my back. “Dude, Celia’s so not a witch. And I assure you she’s never sacrificed anyone.” She paused, her voice trickling hints of sadness. “Except herself…to keep the three of us safe.”

Aric smiled at her gently. “It’s obvious she would do anything for you.”

Shayna squeezed me tight. “And she has…but she’s so lonely because of it.”

I nudged her with my paw. The last thing I needed Aric to hear was more, “Golly gee, you wouldn’t believe how pathetically friendless and love-starved Celia is” testimony.

She laughed and whispered low into my bunny ears, “Don’t worry, Ceel. I won’t mention how long it’s been since you’ve had…relations.”

It was times like this I wished my powers included manifesting rocks to stone Shayna with. She might as well have screamed it out loud with how well Aric could hear.

She continued as Aric coughed nervously into his elbow. “Aric, I don’t mean to insult you, but trust me when I say Celia doesn’t want the rabbits—live, roasted, or otherwise. I know you meant well, but rabbits aren’t her thing.”

Aric’s face reddened before he averted his gaze. “Of course. I didn’t mean to upset her.” He adjusted his weight, causing one of my picture frames to fall over. He glanced at it before placing it back on its stand. It was a photo of me wearing overalls and two big ponytails. Something about it made him smile. “She still looks the same in a lot of ways.”

Shayna laughed. “Oh, I’m sure a couple of things have developed since then.”

I thumped my hind leg with annoyance, causing Shayna to laugh harder. She smoothed down my ears and rose. “Aric? Would you mind taking over soothing-Celia duty? I think she’s in better spirits.” She nibbled on her lip. “Not to mention I’d like to spend time with that cute little buddy of yours.”

Aric chuckled as he sat on the bed. “I’m sure Koda would like that. Thanks, Shayna.”

Aric lay across the bed next to me as soon as Shayna left. He stroked my fur from my head all the way across my back. “In case you’re wondering…I still don’t care what you are.” He smiled. “And you make a damn sweet bunny.”

Said the big, bad beast to the little wabbit. I backed into his chest and rested my fuzzy face against the crook of his bent arm. For a bunny, I was pretty brave. Had I been human, I wouldn’t have dared to lie so close to him.

Aric stayed quiet for a long time, hypnotizing me with his strokes and the warmth of his body. The others moved around downstairs, and I could smell the coals burning when the barbecue was lit. Shayna laughed out loud at something Koda mumbled to her, and Liam fumbled with the playlist until he found a hard-thumping classic rock song. But in my room just then, things felt strangely peaceful. I wished I had the ability to freeze time, or at least slow it down. This moment between Aric and me was more perfect than the sun setting across Tahoe on a warm summer night.

And yet as much as I wanted to hold on to my time with Aric, I was no match for his gentle touch and the sound of the soft rain splattering against the window. My ears flopped against my head and I felt myself begin to change back.

Aric adjusted the blanket over my shoulders. He stood with his back to me, allowing me some privacy, but not appearing anxious to leave. “I like your room,” he said quietly.

Weres frequently walked na**d around one another. Changing as they did didn’t allow much room for modesty. I wasn’t a were, and, despite my toned body, I remained extremely modest. I adjusted the sheet around my br**sts. “Thank you. Shayna helped me decorate it.”

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