The sound of the bullet rounds rang in the cold, eerie night. It took me a second to recognize Kaleb’s voice in the background.
“Roe! Go! I’ll take care of this!” Kaleb took control of the lead and shot a few rounds towards our new target. However, all those bullets were wasted. Maddox Blackwell was still gunning in our direction.
“GO!” Kaleb finally shouted when I remained in the same position.
Like a jolt, I unclipped the empty rounds on my gun and hastily placed the new magazine. Once it was set, I briefly glanced back at the car, which finally stopped a few feet from us with no sign of Maddox. The front driver’s door opened.
“Where is he?!” I inquired as Kaleb grabbed me by the arm, dragging me towards Henry and the rest of the group.
“He ran towards the woods. If he’s shifting, we don’t have much time.” He grumbled under his breath and turned to Henry. “Did you call for back-up?”
“They’ll be here in five. We can’t move him,” he paused briefly and glanced down worriedly at his cousin. “I know we can’t stay here. But the forest will be full of Roués, so that’s no good. We should stay and hold the fort.” Henry suggested.
Kaleb cussed under his breath while hastily checking the number of bullets he had left. “How many more rounds we have left, Roe?” He turned to me with a poker face. The look he wore – well, I also wore – was something we used during an active on-field exercise or mission.
“I have full rounds in my gun and one more extra. Do you have any more bullets in the back of your car, Henry?” I asked, looking at Henry.
“No. If those are what you’ve found in the suitcase, then that’s all I have with me. Sorry.” Henry dejectedly answered.
I nodded, hiding my discontent.
With a heavy breath, Kaleb turned around and studied the abandoned car not far from where we stood. “Can we gun it and steal that vehicle, Roe?” Kaleb inquired in thought and swiftly scanned our eerie surrounding.
“Maybe… but I can smell another trap.”
“I’d rather wait for the backup, but if there are more than five Lycans jumping at us, we can’t hold them down with the weapons we have now.”
“I know. Five minutes might feel like an eternity.”
“Henry, how far are those guys now?” Kaleb asked again, suddenly a look of restlessness crossed him.
“Not far. About a couple of miles now. I had one of my men in Lycan form come to us. He’ll be here in…” Henry didn’t finish when we heard rustling and heavy breathing coming from across the streets.
I spun around out of instinct, my stance guarded and ready. I held up the gun and observed the cavalry we were about to fight. There was a knot in my stomach from the nervousness but I kept my expression calm. It took me a moment to see that they weren’t all Lycans on the opposition side of the street.
“I was going to ask how you are doing, but it would be inconsiderate of me seeing as you all look like you’ve just survived a car accident… well, not all of you…” Maddox smirked as he saw Cole’s unconscious state.
I clenched my jaw but otherwise hid as much emotion as I can. I didn’t want him to see me rattled by his words. I kept my senses open, feeling like he’s about to pull another underhanded trick. I tightened the grip on my gun, waiting for any signal from Maddox’s expression.
“What? No one’s going to speak to me. No hi or hello? That’s rude,” Maddox continually acted like he wasn’t bothered by the tension in our side.
It was then Henry gave in. “F*ck you.”
“Cute.” Maddox grinned triumphantly. “So, how are we going to do this? Either way, you’re coming with us.”s
I echoed Henry’s words.
Rather than being angry, Maddox smiled at my rage. His daunting smirk ticked me off, making my fingers flex on the gun’s trigger. Waiting for someone to start the fight put everyone, even on the other side, on edge. In the corner of my eyes, I could see a few of the Lycans bracing themselves, waiting to pounce.
There was still no signal.
Suddenly, everything was in chaos.
Having the training and instinct to react quickly, I was able to dodge a Lycan gunning towards my arm with the gun. I accurately fired five shots, putting two Lycans down. But their breathing immobile body told me they were still alive. It hadn’t bothered me as long as they are down. With Lycans closely circling us, Kaleb and I pushed back further, too close for my comfort. Cole’s unconscious body was in the middle of a high paced situation. But I didn’t avert my attention away and checked if he was okay. At that moment, it was Henry’s job to protect him. My job was to kill these vermin.
My body was constantly moving. Ducking, kicking, punching, and firing two shots directly towards their head or chest. The more I was in a rhythm, the more I saw my target with precision. Each and every Roué in the opposing side kept on their assault even if one by one they are slowly going down. The five-minute mark did feel like an eternity. Nonetheless, Kaleb and I continued our defense. From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Henry shifting and bursting out of his clothes into his Lycan form. When I was on my second and last round of bullets, my worry bubbled into the surface. It was then the fight briefly halted when flashes of three black Jeeps running toward us at top speed.
“They’re here!” Paul called out from behind us.
With the enemy’s attention directed to our new company, it was easy knocking them out one by one like target shooting. When only a handful of them remained, still standing in the same position from across the street, Maddox whistled a high pitched signal. Kaleb and I remained guarded while waiting for his next course of action. But rather than another round of assault, the remaining Roué in our midst slowly backed away. As the Jeep parked in between us and the enemy, it was then I allowed myself to slightly relax. But I knew it wasn’t over.
“Don’t think you’ve won just yet, little Custodian!” Maddox bellowed.
I ignored the team of armed men swarming towards us. I walked straight ahead until I was halted by Kaleb himself, holding me by my arm as I stood in the middle of the street.
“Don’t think you’ll ever win, A-hole!” I yelled back in rage at the now empty forest across from us.
“Roe, he’s gone. We should go now.” Kaleb stated firmly when I didn’t move.
I kept guarded eyes in the direction I knew they went. It wasn’t until Henry spoke that I snapped out of my trance.
“Cole’s safely inside the car now.”
I clenched my hand that still held the now empty gun and turned towards the Jeep, jumping inside the passenger seat where Cole was lying unconscious still. My emotions were flying everywhere. I was filled with anger, despair, rage, worry, and then an intent to kill someone.
“Henry, did you have someone track him?” I finally spoke as reason started to come back.
I knew he was still in the front seat, though Kaleb had to take a different vehicle with Cole taking most of the space. I knew Henry wouldn’t leave his cousin. He was as worried as I am.
“He’s headed towards North. My guess is he headed back to Montana.” His words sounded bleak.
“I’ll kill him, you know. I won’t let him get away,” I muttered under my breath. “Before, I only wanted to know why. I just want to know why they have to take my family from me. I wanted to know what they wanted from me. But it would seem they won’t let me.”
“You didn’t do anything, Roe. This has nothing to do with you.” Henry reassured.
“Maybe once I was naïve to think that… but not now.”
“Do you know why they want you?”
“Asking them and finding out would be futile as far as I could see. Whatever they want from me, I’m not giving it to them. I’m not staying quiet anymore.”
By the time we’ve finally reached our destination, the Morgan estate, there was nothing but a trail of smoke in the cold night air. The house managed to withstand most of the damage. But we didn’t approach the area. We kept our distance this time, knowing it wasn’t a coincidence how this event happened. It was an ambush as John sensed. They know I’d come here to save Axel and Tony.
Since we saw John’s car got taken down, there was no way of communicating them. John had the device with him. So, I had to trust Henry and his men to do the job. I know it was risky to trust people whom I didn’t know to save two of my most important friends. But I wasn’t in luck to get the right help. I took the chance and waited patiently.
“Don’t worry. I trust these men with my life. These people aren’t likely to betray me.”
“How can you be so sure?” I knew what I was asking was sure, but I’ve been recently lied to by someone he once trusted.
“Kent was different. These are my family.” Henry sounded a little pissed, but he kept his composure.
I nodded, knowing it was right to end that conversation. It didn’t take half an hour before we saw a group running in our direction in the darkness. Squinting my eyes, I could make out four figures instead of the two people Henry dispatched. As they arrived in our car, I noticed Axel walking ahead of the group. I didn’t wait for him to reach our Jeep before I jumped out of the car.
“Axel!” I breathe in relief.
He didn’t say a word and crushed me in a tight embrace. I was caught off guard at his uncharacteristic reaction, but nonetheless, I didn’t push him away. Instead, I hugged him back. We stood like that for a moment until we heard Tony clearing his throat.
“I’m sorry to ruin the moment for you, admirer B. But we need to go. Now.” Tony gestured towards the Jeep behind us with one of Henry’s men holding the door open.
Axel looked at Tony and arched his eyebrow without a word. Then he briefly studied my face before stepping away, though he still held me within arm’s length. “Are you okay?” He finally spoke.
“I should be the one asking you that.” I feigned a smile and snorted.
He kept his eyes on me and nodded towards my gruesome appearance. I nearly forgot we were in a car accident not an hour ago. With a persuasive grin, I reassured him. “I’m okay.”
He nodded and finally let go, heading towards the car.
“Glad you’re worried about me as well, Roe,” Tony observed before following behind Axel.
“I’m glad you’re fine, Tony.” I ignored his playful remark.
I waited until they got inside the car before heading back in mine. Once we were all set, we didn’t drive back towards the same road we took but continued heading north. It was difficult to make much of our surrounding as the moon chose this night to hide behind the clouds. Though we were breaking the rules and living a bit on the edge, it was necessary we kept the car’s headlight turned off until we hit the highway. At least we’d keep the enemies from finding our location to a minimum.
Once we were on the freeway, my body relaxed a little as my attention returned to Cole beside me. It was then Henry spoke again.
“We’ll take him to one of our clinics. Paul checked his basic vitals. His Lycan blood is slowly helping him recover. We just need the doctor’s verdict to be sure.”
Unsure of my words, I only nodded my head in response.
It took about half an hour before he got to a familiar landmark as we headed back towards the city. As we arrived at Henry’s place, the once empty and quiet condo building suddenly looked alive. The lobby was packed with sophisticated looking people. A few were chatting by themselves, but a handful were all briefly glancing towards the door. It wasn’t until Henry had gotten out of the car I knew what they were there for. They were there for him.
The first person to approach us was the man closest to the door. He looked to be around Henry’s age, wearing the most well-tailored suit that he could fit right in at New York’s Wall Street.
“Henry, she’s here. I personally escorted her to one of the secure rooms. I heard from Tom about what happened. I’ve talked to them already. But they wanted to stay and hear it from you.” The man whispered softly, but I was close enough to eavesdrop.
“It’s okay, Robert. I’ll handle the rest.” Henry replied before facing the small crowd.
I broke away from him and kept close to Cole, who was slowly being carried out of the car with a stretcher – which I hadn’t had seen someone pulled out from somewhere. However, my eyes remained locked on Henry’s back. I watched from the distance as people gathered around him. From the sudden silence of murmurs across the glass door, they’ve stopped talking and listened to what Henry had to say. But I didn’t get the chance to eavesdrop.
“Roe.” I looked up when my name was called and found Axel holding out his hand. “Let’s go.”
I accepted his hand and followed the rest of the group. Paul, who was the only other member of Henry’s Clan I trusted, escorted us towards the back of the building and into a service elevator for the staff. Since it was in the middle of the night, there were a handful of people present in the back room. However, not one of them glanced our way. Then I got a whiff of their earthy inhuman scent. They were Lycans. I didn’t bother asked Paul why a group of Lycans was wandering around at night. From what I perceive, they were for security. After what happened, Henry must have increased the manpower in the building.
As we headed back up towards the penthouse, we were greeted by another man in a suit, but this one kept it simple, black and white. He briefly studied our group before his guarded eyes saw Cole in the stretcher.
“Are you Ms. Knightley and her companions?” The man asked.
“Who are you?” I inquired and ignored his question.
“Miss, he’s…” Paul was about to answer, but then the man suddenly blocked the elevator door from closing and gestured his hand out.
“Please come in. I’m Tom. Mr. Lowell’s head of security.” The man stated.
“No. I’m also the Delta of the Lowell Clan.” He finally admitted.
I nodded and got out of the elevator. Paul escorted us inside as the two men carrying Cole continued to head along the hallway, walking past the entrance of the condo unit.
“Wait! Where are you taking him?” I called out, catching up to them.
“Miss, they’re taking him to the Clan’s doctor. He’s waiting for him at the end of the hall. It’s one of the Clan’s personal clinic.” Paul informed.
“Can I go with him?” I inquired, watching as Cole’s unconscious body moving further and further away from me.
“I don’t think…” Paul was about to answer, but yet again he was interrupted. But this time it was someone I knew and waited to see.
“I’ll go with them, Roe,” Ash informed as he materialized behind us.
“Ash! Oh, god! How are you? Where’s Dan? And John? We saw your car…” My words slowly grew panicky as I remembered the scene from when I last saw them. But Ash placed a hand on my shoulder to calm me down.
“I’m fine. Dan’s good. He’s inside with John. You need to go to them. Someone’s there waiting for you.” He informed.
“Actually, she’s waiting for all of you.” He rephrased his words.
“I think you know her.” He said lastly before excusing himself and joined Cole.
“Who is he talking about?” I inquired to Tom since he was the one who greeted us as we arrived.
“I’m not supposed to say anything. I’m only here to guide you back to your room, Ms. Knightley.” Tom evasively replied.
Now I’m curious. “Of course. Please lead the way.”
We all silently headed up towards the second floor. Once we reached the room, I was occupying, Tom knocked thrice. As the door opened, my heart plummeted. Kaleb and Tony blocked my view, who I’ve just noticed weren’t with me while I got out of the car.
My mind was still in a daze from what happened. But hearing her voice felt like I was drenched in cold water and being brought back to reality. There, standing in the center of the room, was none other than Eliza Morgan, head of the Curatrix.
“Please come in before we start talking.” Her words made it obvious she wasn’t an illusion.
We followed and got in the room. It was then Tom left us and closed the door.
“Lady Morgan, what are you doing here?” I was the first one to speak.
“I wanted to talk,” she paused and regarded Kaleb who remained rigid in front of me.
“Why are you here, Lady Morgan?” Kaleb finally spoke as well.
“To tell you my real side of the story, and who the real enemy is…” she trailed off and peered across the room. It was then we noticed John leaning against the wall by the door.
“John!” I called out and was about to uncharacteristically give him a hug. But instead, he held up his hand – telling me to stay. He smiled to lessen the pain of his rejection, which didn’t bother me.
Eliza cleared her throat and regained the attention of everyone in the room. “Rhoane, what I’m going to tell you tonight would not be something you’ll want to hear… and it wasn’t only you who had lost loved ones nine years ago.”
With a deep breath, Eliza glanced away from me and turned to one of her subjects. “Before I tell you my story, I want you to have this first. My father left it to me, which was given by your father to be handed to you.”
My eyes followed her as she pulled out a wrapped box from the inner pocket of her jacket. I grew weary and eager as she closed the gap between us before handing the box to me. “What is it?”
“Your family crest. It is the symbol of your rank in the Custodian Order.”
My hand nearly shook as I took the box from her. “How…? I thought this was buried with them…”
“Your father foresaw the danger ahead, but he was outsmarted, which led to your family’s demise…” she paused. “I’m so sorry.”
“You didn’t know… Did you?”
“No. I was seventeen when that night happened. And my father passed away the week after the event.”
I gasped at the information. “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you.” She gave me a sad smile. “But a few days before he passed, he was wise enough to send me off to my Aunt in Brazil along with my family crest, and yours as well,” she firmly continued.
“Yes. Celestina Guardia, head of the Guardia family who’s one of the ten royal Custodian, is a distant Aunt of mine. She took me under her wing for a year until I came of age and taken my place as part of the Order. The crest helped me with my claim, thus returning me here in Dallas.”
“I don’t understand. I thought by heritage you’d be next in succession.”
“It’s true, but the crest confirms your claim. Without it, someone else can challenge your position.”
“What? I never heard of such a law before…” I trailed off and spun around towards Kaleb. “Do you know about this?”
“Not really. But I do know the family crest is needed to be passed down to whomever succeeded in the family.” Kaleb muttered in reply.
“And what would happen if I turned eighteen and I didn’t have the family crest? Is there someone who’d challenged my position?”
“Don’t be overdramatic. No one in the Knightley line but you could have the qualifications to take a seat in the Order.” Kaleb scoffed in defense.
“There is someone, actually,” Eliza interjected, turning all our attention back to her. “Don’t you have a cousin serving under the Whitmore’s in Australia?”
“Yes… But he’s more of a Whitmore than a Knightley from his father’s side,” I argued.
“His mother is from your side of the family, which makes him eligible.” Eliza countered grimly.
“Are you telling me they planned to kill my family to make him head of the Knightley name? Aren’t the Whitmore’s already part of the Custodian nobility.” I probed in disbelief as realization dawned on me.
“I'm not sure what their main goal is. Also, I’m not pointing fingers here or create confusion. You aren’t the only one who’s been under constant watch.” She breathed in frustration. “There’s more to it than that, of course. And they’ve already achieved one of their goals. Killing off your family.”
“Why?” Her words swirled in my head as my voice echoed in the room. Why?
Thank you so much for reading!
Also, shout out to these lovely ladies: Warda Heetun, Monika Nayani, and Stacie Noor for the review on the book. I truly appreciate your heartful support for the story. Thank you.