I knew we’d arrived when Cole slowed down and approached an iron gate, nearly identical to the one from my childhood home. Located near a forest reserve, the area from an outsider’s point of view would seem sketchy. It had a vibe like a compound owned by a rich underground crime lord, which was a poor comparison for Lycans.
With my heightened senses, I could easily pick up audible signals normal humans couldn’t hear. But as the gate clanged and automatically opened, I hadn’t heard or saw any signal. I peered out for any techs or camera spying on us. Yet nothing. Not a sign of an eerie feeling of being watched by someone. By my confused look, Cole understood my sudden anxious action.
“We communicate telepathically within the members of the Clan.”
“Right, of course. That shouldn’t have surprised me.”
Cole didn’t elaborate and stepped on the gas again. Now inside a supposed enemy territory, I instinctively grew more alert on my surrounding. Entering the compound, we were first greeted with a long gravel path leading to which looked like a huge front lawn. A minute later, we’ve finally crossed path with houses identically lined up across from each other. The compound looked more like a small community from how vast the area was and how many people were living there. It was until then the horrid thought crossed my mind.
“Is everyone living here part of your Clan?” My voice was nearly inaudible, even for me. Being trapped in a confined space, he wouldn’t have difficulty to hear me. He could easily pick up my hushed murmurs like I was talking clearly.
“Yes. They are all part of the Blackwell Clan. There are currently three hundred and twenty members, making us the largest clan in the Western Continent.”
“Three hundred twenty?” I gasped.
“The only Clan closest to ours in number are the Lowell’s in Texas. They’re about two hundred or so,” he calmly continued.
“Are you sure you should be giving me this information?”
“Don’t you already have information about our population?”
“I’m not sure. We don’t easily give out such viable intelligence just to be cautious of Custodians shifting to Vauriens.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I decisively inquired.
“I trust you. I highly doubt Custodians don’t have this information. They are nothing but thorough people when it comes to gathering intelligence from possible threats.”
I neither agreed nor denied his claim since it was true. Certain data are kept secret in honor of the Custodian Treaty, but then there’s nothing wrong with being cautious and prepared. Since I haven’t ascended as head of my family, this sort of information wasn’t available to me. However, this power was flawed. If I become the head of my family and got the answer about my family’s death, I would have patiently waited until my eighteenth birthday. But I realized its limitation the day they died. My father had failed to gather information about the Lycans, Roués to be exact, who plotted to kill us.
My heart suddenly raced at this conclusion. Looking at how closely the Blackwell Clan was situated, it was likely they were already residing in the area nine years ago. As I was about to ask the looming question, I choked on my words. I didn’t get a chance to regroup when Cole parked the jeep in front of a modern style mansion.
I gathered my thoughts and pushed back the dark images in my mind, willing myself to be confident and face the dread possibility of being inside the home of the enemy I had been looking.
“Roe, are you okay?” Cole snapped me out of my cluttered thoughts.
I bit the inside of my cheeks before glancing at him with a strained smile. “I’m sorry. I’m fine. This is really difficult for me.” I admitted. It was difficult to lie to him in his face from the connection between us.
“You’ll be fine. They’ll accept you no matter what. You are my Mate, that’s part of you now.” He affirmed.
The confidence and assurance of his words comforted me. My body unconsciously relaxed as he reached out and lightly brushed a stray hair away from my cheeks. The feeling of his fingertip trailing on my skin completely eradicated the sense of fear.
He’ll protect me, a voiced echoed assertively in my head.
Cole got out of the car and ran towards my side to keep the door open for me. As I closed the door, we both turned as the silver jeep Ash drove timely arrived. Before the car completely stopped, the back passenger door opened and Tony jumped out the second Ash parked. Looking at his worried expression, it further distracted me from the looming dark thoughts. But I knew I had to address it to him. If I want to understand these thoughts, it would be best to ask the one person who knew how to put things in perspective. Tony was one of those people.
“Let’s go. They’re waiting inside.” Cole announced as his two aids had gotten out of the car.
Leading the group, escorting us inside the house facing us, was Ash. With familiarity, he marched towards the wooden intricate front door. The design reminded me of the front door in Lord Viktor Hunter’s office. It had streaks of gold with grandeur features. Once Ash was a step away, the door automatically opened. But this time, rather than having no one there, a blonde-haired and fair-skinned girl around our age enthusiastically opened the door as wide as she could.
“You’re back!” She squealed, making me flinch.
I waited for the three Lycans in our group to speak up. But rather than anticipating a greeting, the girl skipped past us and animatedly jumped towards Dan’s waiting arm, who stood behind the group. Tony and I turned and watched while the two shamelessly shared a kiss in front of us. Tony and I were caught off guard. However, Cole and Ash weren’t a bit shaken at the display of affection. Without batting an eye, they continued walking inside the house like nothing happened. Cole nudged my arm, drawing me away from my ogling.
“What was that?” I huffed while regaining some composure.
“That was my cousin, Dan’s Mate, Chloe. Don’t mind them.” Cole casually informed, brushing off the incident.
“Don’t mind them? I couldn’t un-see that…” I mumbled in disbelief and followed him inside. Tony trailed behind us a second later, disregarding the interruption. I peered back at the couple one last time and looked back at Cole. “Did you expect that would happen between us? Because if you think I’d perkily jump on you like some love sick…”
“Of course not. You’ve hardly allowed me to hold your hand.” He interjected meekly.
I didn’t remark on his observation since it was true. Rather than painstakingly argue about my lack of intimacy, I concentrated on my surrounding. The interior of the mansion reflected its posh exterior design. I could pinpoint a few wooden cabinets and table looking out of place at this modern archetype. It was the opposite of the house I’ve grown up in Europe.
After walking up a flight of stairs, I got anxious where Cole was directing the group. Before I got to ask, the two lovebirds had finally returned and rejoined our group. Chloe marched past me and walked side by side with Cole, leaving behind Dan walking in the rear - like nothing happened. But a moment later, I caught a slight shift from Cole’s demeanor before Chloe turned her attention to me.
“Hi, sorry about the rude behavior a few minutes ago. Since my cousin here always - sort of - steals my Mate’s time from mine, it becomes frustrating when I don’t get to see him,” she bluntly admitted.
I stared at her with slight sympathy - an emotion I didn’t realize was possible to give for their kind. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.” I smoothly lied.
“Sorry I didn’t formally introduce myself. I’m Chloe,” she offered her hand to shake.
“Roe. It’s nice to meet you.” I briefly shook her hand and let go.
“So… are you…” she trailed off as Cole coughed twice in warning. Chloe peered at him in the corner of her eyes and huffed in frustration. When she looked back at me, she gave me a sweet child-like smile. “Once you’ve finished talking with everyone, I’ll get back to you.” She enunciated each word, which I’m sure would annoy Cole in a way. From how his shoulder slumped and how he continually ignored her, it did some justice.
After her brief farewell, Chloe walked away from the group and turned back downstairs, halting briefly to give Dan another kiss - this time only on his cheeks. Once we reached the landing on the second floor, Cole directed us towards the hallway on the right. Instinctively, I checked the other side for possible surprise attacks before regarding the path we’d be taking. It was an intrinsic ability I couldn’t easily brush off.
We walked by at least five doors before reaching the end of the hallway. When we settled by the last door, Cole stood upright before knocking twice. With my heightened senses, I could easily make out the noises behind the door. However, I heard no signal or sound, which put me on edge. They were communicating telepathically again.
Entering the room, I felt Tony’s cautious stare boring through the side of my face. For a brief moment, I nearly forgot his presence. But then he was all I could think about at that moment. What was going through his mind? What does he think about all of this? Did he think I’ve betrayed my kind and gone to the dark side?
Rather than getting those answers, what I got was a question directed at me.
“Who are they, Cole?”
I froze once I registered the woman sitting by a coffee table, much like the one in Kaleb’s house in one of their libraries. However, the room couldn’t have half of the literary material it had. It felt like a small lounge area than a study or office.
“I’m sorry, mother. I wanted to be the one to tell you before everyone heard.” From how Cole said it, he didn’t mean verbally speaking.
“Is this her?” The alert and cautiousness in her eyes were gone.
Subsequently, I saw the resemblance. Her rigid posture turned welcoming and a smile replaced her poker face. “My dear, welcome. I apologize for the slight hostility on my part. We don’t get uninvited guests often. My son here didn’t even give me a call or warning of your arrival.”
“I did say I have someone you’d like to meet. Wasn’t that enough, mother.” Cole argued dejectedly.
“Cole, honey. Call me, mom. Not mother.” She lightly scolded, ignoring his reply. “And where are my manners, please sit.” She turned her attention back to me like nothing happened, gesturing towards a lavish couch placed in the middle of the room.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Blackwell. I’m Rhoane Hunter. With me is my cousin, Tony Reed. I apologize for the sudden intrusion.” I greeted and met her halfway. For a second, I contemplated about reaching out and offering my hand. But rather than taking the initiative, she beat me to it.
She reached out and clasped my hand, shaking it briefly before giving me a surprise hug. At the sudden close proximity, my body stiffened in response.
“I’m so happy Cole had found you. I’ve started to worry. It’ll take him much longer to find his Mate. I didn’t want to put pressure on him – since his father and I meet even before I reached the age when the Mate principle could affect me. However, his father already knew. The timid fool…” she chuckled softly at a memory.
Unsure how to comment I could only conjure a friendly smile. However, Cole seemed more uncomfortable than I was in my position. Still, within her grasp, Cole finally had enough and lightly tugged me away from his mother. Being pulled towards another Lycan’s presence might have made me more vigilant. Yet in Cole’s presence, my guard was unconsciously shot down. I could feel Tony moved closer to me, showing his first sign of protectiveness.
“We’re not here for a casual visit.” Cole had got into business mode.
“Don’t be so stiff and serious like your father, honey. I’ll listen to your questions.” She waved off her hand towards the couch again. “Please sit and then we’ll talk.”
I followed her command, something I wouldn’t have done a couple weeks ago. Everything in this moment wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. How could a meeting and a day change my life drastically? But I knew how it felt. In one night, I’ve lost everything precious to me.
“I could see your Mate is human… And from how calm and collected she looks, she has believed whatever you had told her about us.” She observed. She failed to pick up my scent. For a Lycan, she's too lax - which astonished me. Or she was that confident nothing would happen to her here. Either way, Cole's mother was something.
“Actually, Mrs. Blackwell, I’m not…” I started in reply.
“Please call me, Clarisse, Rhoane. Mrs. Blackwell is too formal.” She interjected.
“I understand. And Roe would be fine, ma’am.” I willing offered. It caught me off guard at the casualness of my voice. But I didn’t show or voiced any of these emotions and contradicting thoughts.
“Roe. Lovely and unique nickname.” She remarked with a grin. “Please continue. Sorry for interrupting.”
I gave her an answering smile before speaking again. “I’m not human, Clarisse. I thought Cole had told you before picking me up today to meet you.”
I watched her eyebrow crease in confusion. “What do you mean ‘not human’? Are you half Lycan? You don’t have to worry about that, dear. There are some Lycans who found human Mates. It’s not uncommon in our kind, but it is rare.”
“No… No, I didn’t mean it like that,” I stammered, surprised upon hearing this tidbit of information. In our studies, we considered humans mingling with Lycans in the Mate principle. Knowing of its rarity of occurrence, would it mean it was possible in the first place for Custodians and Lycans to have such a connection?
“Clarisse, I’m not human nor a Lycan half-bred. I’m a blue-blooded Custodian.” I declared.
Throughout the verbal exchange, Cole kept still and quiet beside me. From how his hand remained and gripped my arm, he was showing a bit of support while I took the lead in speaking. I grew some respect for him in allowing me to take control.
“Custodian?” Uncertain whether she heard me right, her eyes quickly darted towards her son, who kept a steady gaze on her. I could see a slight change in her expression, and from the silence and them staring at each other for a good thirty seconds, I knew they were having another telepathic conversation.
“I see.” Clarisse glanced away from Cole and turned back to me. “I’m glad you came to me first for this, honey. Your father could be a bit dramatic, but he’ll come around soon. But this doesn’t change things for me. I’m still happy.”
Like a heavy burden was lifted, I felt my body relax a bit. Cole chuckled in amusement at my reaction.
Now I knew we were somewhat welcome, I asked, “As you already know from our situation, do you think it is unusual and rare? Has this ever happened before between a Lycan and a Custodian?”
I caught a slight shift from Clarisse’s expression after I asked. Of course, I sounded like a lunatic with this question. But it wasn’t a crazy delusion, it happened. Cole and I were proof of it.
“It is unheard of for Lycans and Custodians to be Mates, however…” she paused and stood up like an idea kicked her. “I’ll be back.”
We patiently waited while she hastily left the room to get something, which I wasn’t sure what it was. After she was gone, the tension only grew exponentially.
“Roe, I don’t like the sound of where this is going… Humans and Lycans as Mate we had considered, but having her credit it is unnerving. But hearing you might not be the first couple to be tangled with this twisted fate…” Tony spoke up and hit each mark on our minds at the moment.
“If that is so, it’ll make this much easier for us,” I contradicted. “Maybe we’d understand why it happened between us, and we might even get to…”
Before I could finish, Cole abruptly stood up, his face masked with slight hostility. Behind us, lingering by the entrance, Ash and Dan looked edgy as well. I was about to ask what’s wrong when the door slammed open and entered a grim middle-aged man with familiar faces glancing behind him. My eyes grew wide as three pairs of eyes glaring in my direction.
“Roe? What are you doing here?” Kaleb was the first to react and moved closer towards the front. He halted when he was an arm’s length away from the man standing in the middle of the group.
I was about to respond when Tony walked and stood protectively in front of me. It was then the group noticed him.
“Tony, what’s the meaning to this?” Kaleb aggressively demanded
The unknown man with them spoke up, interjecting Tony before he could answer. “Cole, I’ll talk to you about this later. We have work now.” The weight and authoritative tone of his voice made me cautious and rigid.
It was the Alpha Lycan, Charles Blackwell. My heartbeat jolted for a millisecond while I studied a possible enemy and threat in the room. Everyone so keen and sensitive, especially Cole, who stood too close to me. He trailed his hand down and grasped my hand, giving it a firm assuring squeeze. The Custodian in the midst trailed their eyes at my direction with mixed emotions. But one gave me a look of annoyance, which came from Kaleb.
“Roe, Tony, Kaleb, and Axel, you four come with me. We’re suiting up.” John’s commanding tone broke the tension between us, his voice perking the interest of the present Lycans in the room.
“Lockwood, this isn’t your fight. They entered into our territory.” The Alpha stated. And from the tone of his voice, he didn’t like arguing about it.
“Of course, Blackwell. But we saw them first.” John childishly informed. “And besides, they were in what used to be a Custodian property. Plus, it’s a Kynigans job to eliminate the Roués.”
Charles regarded John’s word for a second, which stunned me. Alphas aren’t known to be cooperative. But the moment those three suddenly showed up in such dramatic fashion, it was already unusual.
“We’ll take north and you take south,” Charles suggested.
“South it is.” Without much signal, John stared at Tony and me before turning on his heels.
Like a soldier, my body responded to the silent command and followed behind John. But not two steps away, Cole tugged the hand he still held, pulling me out of the trance. I peered down at our entwined finger before glancing up.
“Don’t go. We could handle it ourselves.”
Feeling the weight of Kaleb’s stare in our direction, I lightly tugged my hand away from his grip. “I can’t do that, Cole. I accepted you as a Lycan, as much as I’m still reeling from it. You need to understand who I am as well. A Kynigan Custodian.” I paused and I muttered the last sentence unconsciously. “Not only that, but I'm also a Knightley.”
Without waiting for his response, I followed the rest of my team out of the house towards our vehicle. It was parked adjacent to Cole’s jeep. No one dared speak about what happened or questioned it. When Custodians were on an active mission to kill creatures of the night, the mantra was ‘follow orders and ask questions later.’
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