London was cold and wet when we arrived at Heathrow Airport. There was a slight drizzle of rain. It was London welcoming me home.
We got off the plane on time. Our entourage escorted us discreetly towards the baggage claim area. Even when we stopped by immigration, everything was swift. If I was any normal human, I’d gladly accept this kind of air travel treatment. However, we weren’t ordinary. Our looks are the only similar thing we had in common with our human brethren.
My people are called Custodians. We are an ancient race of human hybrid, who humans once thought were demi-gods. We’re blessed between two different abilities. Firstly, the Curatrix, the witches as humans called them. They were blessed with the power to cast magic from the four elements; earth, air, fire, and water. Secondly, the Kynigan, the hunters or knights as were best known in the old age. They were gifted with enhanced physical abilities.
From the two, I’m a Kynigan. But not just any normal Kynigan. I’m a Custodian Royal. Not only that title burdens me, but also the fact I’m the last of my bloodline, the Knightley. The tragedy happened nine years ago when my family was murdered cold-blooded in our own home. We were caught off guard by the attack. And I was fortunate enough to escape death that night. However, in the past nine years since the dreaded event, I was unable to take action under the protection of the Minister of the Custodian Order, Viktor Hunter.
Nonetheless, it didn’t last too long. Nearly a month ago, one of my closest friend, also the son of the Minister, Kaleb Hunter, gave me a surprise. He was able to sanction an investigatory mission by the Custodian Order. But the mission completely turned sideways after I met a specific Lycan, Cole Blackwell. Throughout that week, I found out I was a Lycan’s – soul bound– Mate. And that his uncle, who was exiled by his Clan, was part of the people who conspired to kill my family. Yet the bad news didn’t even end there.
When we took a trip to Texas and followed a trail of evidence on who was responsible for my family’s death, we met Eliza Morgan. A formidable Custodian, and Head of the Curatrix. In our meeting, she had given us information and list of names of people who may be responsible for my family’s death. To top it off, these lists of people weren’t ordinary Custodian. They have influence and power.
As much as I wanted to do something more about it, I’m powerless in taking any action that might be worthwhile. By Custodian law, I have to be eighteen to ascend and represent my family’s name as part of the Custodian Council, the leader, and representative of the ten royal Custodian Family. However, even then, I knew power meant something different in our community. If I ever take place as head of the Knightley name, it’ll be more improbable to personally take part in an active field mission. No high ranking Custodian, especially a Custodian Royal, takes part in any field missions.
I’ve recently tasted freedom. As my eighteen birthday is fast approaching, I’m more driven to get the real answers that became my family’s demise. My blood was boiling for more. I couldn’t let it end now. Time is of the essence.
In defiance, I regarded the head of security the Minister appointed for me – who were there to protect and enforce his orders. This was a new addition to my previous team a week ago. It only happened because I’ve broken a rule on our investigative mission. I got hurt. The patches of bandage, bruises, and a dislocated shoulder are evidence that I broke that rule.
Sir Yorke, head of my current security team, used to be one of my teachers at the Custodian Academy. He used to boss me around even then. Because of our clashing interest (and personality), I’m currently in a heated argument with him by the exit of Heathrow Airport.
“I’m not going back to the Hunter Mansion yet, Sir Yorke. The Minister did say I was to be present for debriefing two days from now. He didn’t actually insist I shouldn’t be staying in at the mansion before then.” I argued again when he still didn’t budge.
“But he asked me to bring you safely back. From what I remembered, you lived under the Minister’s protection, my lady.” His answering tone was dry.
“And isn’t Custodian Royal families under the Minister’s protection. What difference would it be if I stayed at the Cozza’s estate?”
“A huge difference…” he trailed off when his phone vibrated in his inner blazer pocket.
Even the elegant ensemble of a suit didn’t make Sir Yorke less intimidating, which wasn’t a surprise. We have our fair share of a beast in the Custodian community. Sir Yorke was one of them.
He got the phone out and hastily answered a call. There was a long silence as he listened to the caller on the other end. Once the person finished talking, I watched Sir Yorke turned his weary gaze back to me.
“Yes, ma’am. The Lady had asked to stay at the Lady Cozza’s estate for the time being.”
Cole, who had been silent beside me, spoke up. He’d been patient as I let off some of my frustration towards my former instructor.
“Roe, I think it’s best that we follow and go wherever they want us to go. We don’t have that much choice. And I don’t want you to risk anything when your shoulder hasn’t fully recovered,” he said.
I peered at him from the corner of my eyes. I was afraid to meet his gaze. For one, I knew the mystical Mate bond between us would alter whatever resolve I have. And second, I didn’t have the guts to agree that he was right. Because he was. My still aching shoulder made my eyebrow creased whenever I unconsciously move a muscle.
“I’m not doing anything risky, Cole. I just want to keep you guys with me longer. Because, for sure, you aren’t allowed in the Hunter Mansion. With the limited time I have, I’d at least spend it with you.” That was the other reason, one I’ve slowly accepted as a fact in my heart.
I didn’t want to physically be apart from Cole.
The idea made me choke like the air was taken out from my lungs. And I’ve recently found out his presence gave me a sense of peace during dreary nights – especially when I have vivid nightmares. His warmth eased up the chill running through my body. With him beside me, I had been sleeping in peace for the first time since the night after my family’s death.
Cole smiled at my reply. “I’m not going anywhere, Roe. I’ve said this to you many times since we departed from Dallas. Not now. Not even the Custodian Minister can keep us apart.”
“Your brave to challenge Viktor Hunter. You don’t know the man like I do.” I dryly chuckled.
“And he doesn’t know me as well.”
I let him have this argument. My attention was redirected when Sir Yorke addressed Melissa Hunter’s name. So I kept quiet and eavesdrop on his conversation. But her voice was too low from the receiver to hear. I waited for Sir Yorke’s response to piece the information.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll escort the lady Knightley at the mansion the day after tomorrow.” With that, Sir Yorke ended the call and grimly turned to his men.
“You heard the lady Knightley. Tell the drivers we’re going to the Cozza estate. And informed the men at the estate we are going with a convoy,” he ordered.
Once I knew it was safe to talk again, I asked. “Who was that on the phone, Sir Yorke?”
He looked at me with resignation. “It was Lady Hunter. And you’re in luck, my lady. She thinks it’s better you don’t go the mansion right now.”
“Why? Did something happen? Am I really in that much trouble?” My worry increased.
Sir Yorke chortled. “You’re already in trouble, my lady. But that’s not it. Something came up… and it’s best you’re not there at the moment.”
“And now you’re holding back information from me. Don’t be coy.” I grumbled.
“The head of the Custodian royal families is flying in,” he rigidly stated.
“What? Why? They rarely meet. You’re holding back something more, Sir Yorke.” I roughly accused.
“They’re having a meeting about what happened in Dallas. Lady Morgan was able to find the arsonist of her estate after a few days of investigation. It seems like someone from a high ranking Custodian family turned against their own people. I’ve never thought that one day a Vaurien would be an official staff.” He added the last sentence without conscience.
“Does the investigation connect these Vaurien to my family’s death?” I inquired silently.
Beside me, Cole was silent as he listened to our conversation. Before Sir Yorke was able to reply, Talia rejoined us, checking why we were taking so long. Our conversation was cut short as we exited the premises and got in our respected vehicle.
In the heavily tinted black car with me were Cole, Talia, Sir Yorke in the front seat, and our driver. A minute in the drive, I incited our previous conversation, which Talia hadn’t heard.
“What? We’re heading to my place? I thought we’re dropping you off at the Hunter Mansion first, Roe,” she asked in confusion.
“There’s a slight change of plans,” I replied. “It seemed the Minister had called a meeting with the members of Custodian Council. Lady Morgan found the arsonist who targeted her estate.”
I’ve filled in Talia about everything that happened before we left for England. But I left out a couple of details. For instance, Kent Maiden was the arsonist, and the same man who I told her helped us infiltrated the Morgan estate. I didn’t give her a name to be exact. The Kent Maiden she knows is from the list of names I’ve given her that Eliza Morgan told us. It wasn’t my call to divulge the details of our case. She already knows too much for a bystander. Plus, she’d offered Cole, Ash, and Dan as her guest under short notice. I can’t let her shoulder another heavy burden.
“Lady Morgan already found the person? Was it a Custodian?” From my expression, she guessed the answer.
But she wanted (truly so) to be wrong. Another reason why I couldn’t tell her there were a handful of high ranking Custodians who wanted my head on a platter. Her trust in our people (as I once did) would be lost. I didn’t want her to lose that belief as well.
It was Sir Yorke who answered her. “It was.”
Talia cussed under her breath and peered in my direction. For a moment, her piercing gaze felt like she saw through me. Her words told me otherwise.
“And I thought Roués were already enough trouble as is. Now, we’re going to be dealing with Vauriens as well. Did you know?” She looked frustrated.
I internally sighed in relief at her remark. She doesn’t know.
I kept my face blank before replying. “No. I didn’t.” Which was true, at some point.
On my other side, Cole was eerily quiet. He quietly placed a hand on top of mine before lacing our fingers together. I slowly leaned on his side, allowing the touch to soothe my own guilt. I knew not telling Talia would be difficult. But I’m not backing out now. It’s the only way to protect her when the time comes.
Once we arrived at the Cozza estate, Talia’s mood shifted and turned much lighter. Our convoy entered the guarded gate and drove across the well-trimmed lawn towards the baroque-inspired home. We halted in front of two curved stone stairs leading towards a wooden and intricate door. It was nostalgic. I remembered coming over to this estate throughout my time at the academy. The memory grew more familiar when the rest of the security team trailing behind us in their own cars exited their vehicle.
“Nothing changed,” I muttered dryly as Talia chuckled and exited the car as well.
I followed behind her while Cole decidedly exited on his side of the door. He quickly circled around the vehicle and joined Talia and me by the foot of the staircase.
It was then I noted a familiar face standing there. His prim and proper tailored suit and tie were clean as ever. However, his greying dark brown hair was the only sign of the man’s age. The head of the Cozza family, Tristano Cozza, looked not a day fifty-year-old.
Upon seeing him, Talia nearly jumped towards the man’s waiting arm. He staggered back at her exuberant greeting. Nonetheless, he didn’t show his discomfort.
“Dad! Why didn’t you tell me you were already here?” Talia asked as she leaned away, but didn’t let him go just yet.
“I’ve just arrived a couple of hour from you, pumpkin,” Tristano replied softly. His words and voice showed his love for his daughter. “How was your flight?”
“It was okay. Did you get my text message?”
“Yes. That’s why I’m here and not inside the house.” It was then Tristano peered away from his daughter and turned to me.
His expression hadn’t change one bit. In his eyes, I was like a daughter to him. His home was the only place I go to when I felt cramped under the Hunter Mansion.
“My dear, Rhoane, how are you?” he greeted, opening his other arm for my embrace.
Out of courtesy, Talia stand back and allowed me to hug her father briefly before replying to his greeting.
“I’m doing well, Uncle Tristano. And I’d like to thank you beforehand for allowing us to stay at your home,” I said.
“No need for formalities, my dear. This is as much as your home as mine,” he lightly said. Without waiting for my response, he turned towards Cole, who I knew was standing closely behind me. “Now, mind introducing me to your new friends.” He smiled, eying Cole and then peering towards Ash and Dan, who just joined us with Axel and Tony in front of them.
I felt my heart skip a beat. I looked at Talia. For a moment, I felt jealous about the Lycan’s ability to talk telepathically. I wanted to know whether or not she had said anything to Tristano about him housing Lycan guests.
Somehow, Tristano noted my brief silence and chuckled. “If you’re weary whether or not I know what they are, Rhoane, rest assured. I’m not the head of the Curatrix Intelligence Sector (CIS) for nothing. I’m only asking for an introduction out of courtesy.” He jested.
My face heated up in embarrassment that he was able to read me like an open book.
“I… Uhm… these are from the Blackwell Clan in Montana. Cole Blackwell, Ash Michel, and Dan Crowe,” I finally choked out their names.
“Uhm.” Tristano nodded in greeted. “Lovely to personally meet one of Salazar Lycos direct descendant.”
My body automatically moved in front of Cole in a defensive position. Talia looked at me in alarm. Not only it was the first time she saw me looked hostile, but also I’ve directed it towards my own people. Someone I trusted. Someone who considered me as part of their family.
“Roe! What…” Talia was the first to react.
Then Tristano stepped closer to me, blocking his hand in front of his daughter in a warning.
“Talia, don’t.” He whispered in a warning. “So, it’s true then. You both are soul bound.”
“Dad, how did you know?” Talia was the only one able to speak from the tension.
“My position isn’t for show, my dear. I know a lot than you expect,” he replied to her before glancing back at me. “And my dear, Rhoane, I’m not your enemy. I’m on your side. The side which is not against my own people. Also, I know you have questions about your connection with the Lycan. You know I’m someone who can help you find those answers.”
Cole swiftly shifted behind me. He grabbed my arm and linked our fingers. Since I haven’t relaxed from my rigid position, he gave my hand a brief squeeze and then lightly kissed the top of my head.
“He meant no harm, Roe. It’s okay,” Cole whispered in assurance.
I looked up and met his gaze. My body started to relax as a wave of warmth rushes through me. “It’s okay,” Cole said one last time like a chant rather than a promise.
“I’m okay,” I muttered in agreement and took back control of my emotions. “Sorry, Uncle Tristano. That’s the first time I’ve reacted that way.” I added breathlessly.
“No worries, my dear, that’s a normal reaction from a bond between two Mates.” He chuckled in response. “I’ve seen it first hand myself.”
Talia looked at her father with brand new eyes. “What do you mean, dad? You’ve met with Lycans before? I thought you’ve never gone on a field mission that’ll require you contact with them.”
Tristano looked at her daughter like a guilty criminal. “You’ve only assumed what you’ve heard, my dear. I’m sorry. But there are things in my work that you are young too have any knowledge.”
Now, Talia was speechless with all this new revelation.
Like her, I’ve always thought of Lord Tristano Cozza as a wise yet oblivious man. He had an innocent outlook of everything in life. For a man who handled the CIS, I should know better. It was all an act. Of course, he knew. He didn’t get that position because he wasn’t knowledgeable. It was because he was. And we were the once who were oblivious to not see it clear as day.
“I see that you all have questions. And it’s a chilly night out. Let’s all go inside and talk. But first, let me treat your injury first, Rhoane.” Tristano stated and gestured toward the main entrance.
Behind us, I watched Sir Yorke returned to the vehicle without as much as a word of goodbye. They then drove off towards the main entrance. Out of sight, and now out of my mind (for now).
I turned to Cole, who still had our finger linked. “Let’s go.” I pulled him along with me inside the house.
Once we were inside, I pointed to parts of the house where Talia and I used to do our shenanigans. Then I gestured at the second floor, telling him how I have my personal room in the house.
“Other than the Minister, Uncle Tristano is the only other Custodian royal who treated me as part of their family. Sometimes the Hunter Mansion gets too cramped for me, so I have many nights I spend here with Talia.” I narrated softly as we entered the luxurious living room
“I’m happy that you have such a friend. When we first met, I’ve always thought you’ve preferred your company around men… since, well, you know…” He replied timidly.
I laughed. “Well, you aren’t wrong actually,” I admitted. “There are hardly any female Kynigans in my class. Since the Academy mostly trained Custodian from high ranking families, there aren’t many who wish to train Kynigan female in combat. Most of them grew up studying in normal institutions – I mean with humans.”
“I didn’t know that,” Cole remarked in thought. “But you’d at least have one female friend who’s a Kynigan right?”
It was then Talia interrupted our brief private conversation. “No. She didn’t. Roe here is at the top of her class, and Kynigans are competitive. Since I’ve never been in the same training mat or defensive class with her, I never felt her right hook.” She chuckled at the memory.
Tony called out behind us and raised his hand. “I did. But I’m still friends with her.”
“But Kaleb’s your best friend. It doesn’t count.” Talia remarked. “And Axel’s been with Roe since she was young, so he does not count either.”
“Wow, please don’t alienate the only people who actually consider me as their friend, Talia. I don’t have much to go around.” I dryly jested.
“I’m sorry. But it’s the truth. And Cole, you should see her fight. You’ll understand why your girlfriend’s not popular.” Talia teased and winked before rejoining her father, who had the in-house staff lined up for introduction.
I rolled my eyes at her remarked and turned towards the Cozza’s estate staff. “Come on, there are people I’d like you to meet as well. These are the once who raised Talia and me.
I halted in front of the line of a dozen Custodian who managed and secured the Cozza estate. And everyone’s faces were nostalgic as well.
I was home.