I felt like my heart was about to jump out of my chest as we all walked down the stairs. I’m glad Cole and Chloe were taking the lead. But it didn’t change the fact that I’m super nervous about meeting new people – and not just any people, Lycans for that matter. Reaching the landing of the stairs, Chloe led the group to the living room where we could hear loud chatters. As we were about to reach the hallway leading the room, Cole pulled me back.
“And where do you think are you going?”
“Aren’t we going that way as well?” I pointed out to where Chloe had disappeared.
“No. We’re heading out the back. You won’t like being smothered in a room full of Lycan woman.” Cole observed before directing the rest of us away from the living room.
Rather than questioning his resolve on the matter, I allowed him to drag me out of the house towards the back. The back porch was more incredible than the well-trimmed front lawn. But my attention was quickly averted when a crowd of Lycans turned their gaze in our direction with unison. It felt eerie and intimidating. Then I questioned myself, were they communicating telepathically?
As though it answered my question, everyone turned away from their gazes at the same time Ash and Dan approached our group.
“Where’s the old man?” Cole inquired aloud towards the two.
“He’s with my Dad out front with a few of the team taking patrol for the evening,” Ash replied. “Dan’s pops are with them as well.”
“Great, so am I supposed to do the introductions?” Cole muttered under his breath with disdain.
“Not sure…” Ash trailed off as something, or rather someone caught his attention. “They’re here.”
On cue, I watched Charles enter the backyard from the side entrance with a handful of men trailing behind him – like a security entourage. He looked more like a president than a small town mayor.
“Where are the rest of the ladies?” Charles called out before his eyes found our group. “Good, you’re here.” He announced and gestured for us to go to him.
Without any signs or indication, Cole grabbed my hand and grasped it firmly. I silently followed his lead though I felt a bit annoyed he was being slightly forceful with his advances. But I’d rather go along with it for now since we were outnumbered.
“Rhoane, how are you settling in? Are you okay with the room?” Charles inquired in greeting.
“It’s more than I could expect to have, Mr. Blackwell. Thank you for accommodating us.” I replied formally, knowing there were eavesdropping ears around us. With this number of hybrids in one place, it wouldn’t be easy passing a soft whisper without being heard.
“Please don’t be too formal. Call me Charles.”
“That’s hardly appropriate, sir.” I pointed out and hastily peered at Kaleb standing rigidly on my other side.
Charles disregarded my reply and turned to Kaleb like he noticed me gazing at him. “Mr. Hunter... Kaleb. May I call you Kaleb, young man?”
I saw him clench his jaw before answering stiffly. “Either way is okay by me, sir.”
“Kaleb it is,” Charles decided. “How are you all doing? I hope they’re treating you well.”
“The place is more than we could ask, as Roe had said. And everyone’s very accommodating,” Kaleb answered. Yet looking at his steely gaze, it took all of his strength not to hurl out those words.
Whether Charles noticed his poker face or not, he pretended otherwise. With a genuine smile, he escorted our group towards a wooden bench close to the grilling barbeque. I hadn’t even noticed there were foods served in this gathering from how cautious I’ve been with my surrounding. Once we sat down, like royalty, we were served a good portion of the meal first before I noticed the rest of the attending guest grabbing their fill.
The food tasted bland as I pretended to eat my fill. On both my side, Cole and Kaleb were polar opposites. Well, at least one of them felt the same uncomfortable feeling as I had. For Tony and Axel, both seemed to look oblivious as they enjoyed their meal. However, I noted Axel’s subtle glances on the people who were walking past our direction.
A good minute later I decided to stop acting like I was enjoying the meal and grabbed the glass of fresh lemonade to clear my throat. After the week I had, especially yesterday’s attack with the Roués, the probability of another attack was high. Looking above the clear bright sky, it no longer had the security it once gave me. I’m perplexed at how lax they were.
“Roe, are you okay? Are you done eating?” Cole snapped me out of my stupor, making me a bit jumpy.
Noticing my reaction, he pushed aside his nearly empty place and turned half his body in my direction. “Do you want to get out of here?” He asked softly, keeping his voice low enough as he could.
“I’m fine,” I murmured and hastily looked across us to where his father sat. He looked distracted talking to his men.
“I just want you to feel comfortable. Would you be okay?” Cole admitted.
“I’m fine, really, Cole,” I reassured again. “After this, is there something more going on?” I finally inquired after a brief pause.
“I think they’ll be introducing you to the Clan…” Cole trailed off as he glanced at his father. “… I think now.” He continued when Charles abruptly stood up at the same time I heard the back door of the main house getting crowded.
I regarded the direction the noise came from and found Clarisse in the midst of more than a dozen women. Aside from her, I could only recognize Chloe in the group. Before I could press Cole further on what was going to happen, Clarisse called out my name.
“Rhoane, dear! Where are you?” It didn’t take long for her to find me in the midst of the crowd. “Dear! What are you doing staying with the boys? Come!” She ordered and gestured for me to approach them.
“I don’t think it’s best to make my wife wait, my dear Roe,” Charles added when I remained in my seat. “I don’t want her coming in here. She’ll drag me along with you. For now, would you take one for the team?” Charles cheekily asked.
Cole remained quiet beside me, which got my interest. “Cole?”
“It’s okay, Roe. I’ve already asked Chloe to stay by your side all the time. If you want, you can join them.” From the way he said it, there wasn’t much a choice for me but to go.
As I was about to stand, Kaleb, grabbed my wrist. “Will you be okay?” There was a hint of distress in his tone.
“I will be fine, Kaleb.” I gravely assured him, looking at him in the eye, showing how confident I was with my resolve. But it all a farce, of course.
He watched me for another second before nodding. At his other side, Axel nodded his head as a sign that he’ll follow my lead. However, Tony didn’t look convinced at my choice. That was a first.
“Do you have your phone with you? If not, here’s mine.” He offered.
“I have it, Tony. I’ll be fine.”
“Okay. Good. Just call if you need anything.”
“Got it, Tony.”
As I left the group to join Clarisse’s entourage, I briefly turned around and gave my friends and Cole an assuring smile. Everything would be fine. I hope.
Then to my dismay, it wasn’t.
“How did you two meet?”
“When did he finally tell you?”
“Did you allow him to kiss you?”
“How was the kiss?”
“I bet he was being shy.”
No. He wasn’t shy at all, I thought, rather than correcting the girl who pointed out the comment.
“Everyone, I think hounding Rhoane won’t get you anything. And besides, Roe, dear, you aren’t entitled to tell us anything that happened between Cole and you. It’s your choice whether you like to share it with us or not.” Clarisse finally called their attention.
“We’d want to at least hear how they met.” Rather than hearing her defending me, Chloe took the lead on being the initiator of my current situation.
“Chloe,” Clarisse warned as she looked at her deadly.
She huffed in defeat and sat down beside me on the sofa. “Well, I have to ask you later when we have our privacy again, Roe.” She stated. Her disappointment didn’t last long.
I wanted to refuse her offer, but her angelic and innocent smile – though I know was all an act – was difficult to say no. However, the atmosphere in the room shifted as Clarisse clasped her hand and motioned towards the armrest of the couch. All eyes were on her again.
“Before my husband and I are going to formally introduce the new member of our family, I want to do this first with all of you ladies,” Clarisse paused and gestured for me to stand and go to her.
I followed and awkwardly stood as she places both of her hand on each side of my shoulder. “To formally introduce, I would like you all to meet Rhoane. My son’s Mate and future Luna of the Blackwell Clan.” Her voice echoed clearly in the room.
My heart suddenly rose after hearing her words. Luna. How could I possibly be a Luna of Lycans? Three months from now I’ll have my formal ascension as part of the Custodian Royalty, Lady Knightley of the Custodian Order. That’s who I was always going to be.
It took me a second to grasp all of it. But I couldn’t speak up as the group suddenly swarmed around me again, shaking my hands with congratulations. I could only stare at them and accepted the greeting. After that, I found no opportunity to speak out as they escorted me outside. With a group of Lycan woman hot on my heels, it was difficult to pull Clarisse aside and tell her I’m not going to be a Luna. And that she was mistaken.
When we rejoined the main group, my worry had been shoved aside as Cole returned to my side and entwined our hands. I couldn’t even get a word out and say hello as Charles directed our attention towards the crowd that slowly gathered around. Finally, he asked Cole and me to stand on the bench for leverage. I was hesitant at first, but Cole was quick to cool my worry and helped me up beside him. Once I got a good viewing advantage of the crowd, my anxiety came back.
“Cole, I don’t think… I need to talk to you and your mother or father…” I muttered under my breath while Charles called everyone’s attention, telling everyone to remain silent for a few seconds.
“What is it, Roe? Is there something wrong?” Cole inquired.
I didn’t have time to get the whole word out as Charles called my attention.
“Roe,” he started. I tore my eyes away from Cole and studied Charles’ calm expression. “I’m glad that you’re here with us. And I’m proud of my son that he has finally found his Mate. Better late than never.”
A few people chuckled at his light humor.
“As Alpha of the Blackwell Clan, I accept and welcome you to the family. May you and Cole live a fruitful and blessed life,” he held up a cup he was holding. Then everyone around us followed. “Cheers to both of you.”
Everyone echoed his last words and together drank a mouthful of their drinks. From there, I could feel the bead of sweat forming on my forehead and my palm starting to get clammy. This was bad. It wasn’t why I agreed to be here.
However, my internal dilemma came to a halt as a commotion brought the party to silence. Everyone turned in unison when a group of shirtless men walking out from the forest across the yard. And looking from their ragged breathing, it was obvious they had been running.
Cole and I jumped down from our make-shift stage.
“Excuse me. I have to attend to business for a moment.” Charles informed before breaking away from the group and meeting the shirtless men halfway.
“Cole,” Ash suddenly appeared behind us, making Cole and I turn in unison. “There’s something wrong.”
“I’ve guessed as much. It unlikely of them to return in human form when they report to him,” Cole replied. “He must not want everyone here to overhear their conversation through the link.”
“Do you want me to check it out?” Ash offered, now his voice had become considerably lower. I had to strain my senses to catch his words.
“Dan.” It was all Cole said before the man himself walk up behind Ash. “Check out the perimeter where they came from.” He added quickly before Dan silently broke away from the group and disappeared from the party entirely.
“Cole, what’s going on?” I finally asked.
“I don’t know. I’m having Dan re-track their trails. If my gut isn’t wrong, I think they caught something…” he trailed off as his eyes briefly went blank. “Dan’s close to the site.” He whispered.
“Where?” Ash inquired with interest.
“Northwest of the border.”
“That’s close to her apartment.”
There was another silence before Cole spoke again. And this time, it made the hairs of my body rise. “They found a Roué at their place.”
Before I could inquire some more, Cole suddenly grabbed my arm and escorted me towards the house. In shock, I couldn’t answer Kaleb and Tony’s worried question as they followed behind us. Once we were safely in the confines of a room, which looked more like a study yet not the one we’re in when we met Clarisse, Kaleb finally demanded some answers.
“If you don’t tell us what’s going on, I’m pulling the plug and we are all out of here!” Kaleb threatened.
“I don’t think it’ll be wise to go anywhere but here. The Roués have located your old apartment.” Cole replied in the same tone.
“What? But your father assured us they hadn’t followed him nor pin-pointed his location. How did they find it this quick?” Kaleb tried to put the pieces of the puzzle, which he didn’t have all the cards too.
“They must have caught his scent somehow.” Cole’s answer was very loose.
“Don’t give me that crap, Blackwell!” Kaleb yelled.
“Do you think I know how they found the place? I’m as pissed about this as you are! Her safety is also my priority!”
“Is it? Because you hadn’t locked her up in a room as I would!”
“For goodness sake! Don’t talk like I’m not here, you idiots! And I’m not staying in this room. I want to know who these bastards are that’s giving us more problems.”
That silenced them for a second.
“Cole, what else did Dan find?” Ash spoke up, bringing our attention back to the issue at hand.
“His assessment isn’t very accurate. He’s can’t get close since my dad placed guards in the area already. They’re checking if the Roués are still there.”
“Well, that’s not helpful,” Tony remarked.
“I think we should ask your dad himself, Cole,” Ash suggested.
“I don’t know if he’d be willing to give that information without substantial evidence yet. He’ll talk to us if he finds something.” Cole informed.
“Well, that’s stupid! He didn’t even bother to tell us that Roués were in our apartment. Do you think he’d just willing give us information as to why they were there?” Kaleb challenged, looking at Cole with hate. He wasn’t the least bit subtle about it.
“No. Since he’s gathering information, it’s unlikely he’ll be telling us anything. It’s how he operates.”
Kaleb rolled his eyes at his response and completely turned his back on him. He sat down and settled at one of the single couches in the room.
“And how long does that take for him to finish gathering information?” I asked since the rest of my friends had lost interest in talking to Cole and Ash.
Like on cue, the door opened and Charles entered with Clarisse beside him.
“Dad…” Cole started but Charles held up his hand, stopping him.
“I already know you knew about the news, Cole. So I’m here to report to you what I know.” He declared as he turned his gaze towards Kaleb, Tony, Axel, and I. “But before I continue, there is something you need to know about what happened that night.”
“What do you mean?” I inquired, confused at his choice of words.
“The night your parents died, my dear Rhoane.”
My heart suddenly clenched as he said those words.
“But I assure you, our Clan is innocent and your father was truly a friend of mine. However, my relationship and belief of a future where Lycans and Custodians no longer held grudges and peaceful with each other isn’t a well-accepted opinion.” Charles informed.
“Trust me, it isn’t only a one-sided opinion,” Kaleb remarked under his breath, which Charles choose to ignore.
“That night. There was one Lycan who was there in your house. Someone who I trusted, loved and called my family. My younger brother, Maddox Blackwell.”
“Isn’t he the Roué we met when we were at the Knightley compound the other night?”
“Yes. That’s him.” Charles nodded and peered at his son. “I didn’t tell you the whole truth why I had to banish Maddox from the Clan completely. Before he colluded with crimes he did that night, he had already betrayed me. He wanted to be the Alpha. He wanted to be head of the Blackwell Clan. I didn’t know the greed that consumed him. Only after he ambushed me that I saw through the thick wall of emotions he hid from me all these years.”
“Why hadn’t you told me, dad?”
“I couldn’t. Even if he’s like that, he was my brother. I couldn’t backstab my own kin, even if he had done so with me.”
“I thought he had gone rogue after Aunt Lauren passed and lashed out.”
“That’s partly true. But he was already plotting to overthrow me before her untimely death.”
“But he hated the Roués for her death… how could he be one of them?”
“That I don’t know. And I’ve tried asking him on the few occasion he visited the area,” he paused as guilt crossed his expression. “I should have been more cautious and weary why he was lurking around our territory. I should have looked at him with an eye of a stranger. But he was still my brother, even if he was no longer part of the Clan.”
I watched as Clarisse moved closer and lightly patted his back. For a brief moment, I saw a glimpse of peace on his face. Then he looked serious.
“My dear, Rhoane, I’m so sorry for my lack of resolve as an Alpha. I should have known that my brother was an informant. Being his brother, even if I asked for your forgiveness every day, the hole he made in your heart won’t easily be mended. And for that, I apologize.”
“How did you know he was the one who gave them information to attack that night?” I inquired, my voice sounded chocked and airy. But I had to ask. This was news to me. I’ve never dreamt that the enemy was this close. And if I get the chance to pick its brain, of course, I would have asked.
Why did you kill my family?
Charles’ eerie reply put the room into a void of silence. “He was there when your family was killed.”
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