There were five convoy SUVs escorting us back to Lowell’s residence. From Cole’s description, it was a whole condominium building in downtown Dallas. We felt like VIP guests, which wasn’t off the mark. Once we arrived at the condo, we headed toward the parking area. To my surprise, the whole floor was a bit bear with only a line of cars piled on the corner close to the elevator. I didn’t question the sense of exclusivity of the area. Per Cole’s story, his cousin, Henry Lowell, is an influential man.
“Cole, would you want to get settled down first before we talk?” Henry inquired after we got out of our respected cars.
Axel hastily headed to where I was as Kaleb and Tony followed. But Ash and Dan remained in their car, a few feet away from us.
“Roe? Would you like to talk or rest for a while?” Cole rephrased and relayed the question to me.
“Let’s talk. I want to clear things out about why we are here first,” I replied, peering briefly at Henry who was studying Cole and I. From the car ride, I had been waiting for him to bring up about Lycans and Custodians as Mates. And I knew Henry knows about who we are. But not once did he flinch or inquire about the rare and odd pairing.
“How about I get you guys settled in first before we talk?” Henry suggested after studying our group for a while. “You look a bit worn out from the flight.”
“I think that’s best,” Cole seconded after giving a good look at the dark circles under my eyes.
I pursed my lips. I was about to object but they were right. I could feel the strain of what happened slowly weighing me down. “Okay. Please lead the way.”
Henry left our group at the hands of his secretary, who I wasn’t sure was the Beta of the Clan as well. There wasn’t much conversation that passed between our group and the members of the Lowell Clan. The secretary escorted us to the penthouse, top floor of the building, while Henry seemed to disappear from the elevator next to us. Rather looked suspicious of their action, I felt rather comfortable having their security just by sensing Cole’s calm demeanor. Once we entered the open-spaced living room, with the full view of the bustling city in front of us, there wasn’t any worry nor feeling of unease that passed within our group. Everyone, including the weariest of us, was immersed by the view.
Ash whistled as he headed towards the glass floor to ceiling window. “This is some view.”
“I totally agree. And how much do you suppose this place costs?” Tony lightly jested.
“More than I earn in this lifetime, I suppose,” Ash humored him.
“If you could kindly follow me up to the second floor, we have a few guest rooms you could choose from.” The secretary spoke again, grabbing everyone’s attention.
“What? There’s a second floor in the place,” Tony gasped as we all turned around and found the staircase. “Well, that’s more than I could imagine for myself.”
There wasn’t much to be familiar with the place rather than the living room and our bedroom. So the tour was short. After that, the secretary gestured the three-bedroom suite we could choose from. Per popular vote, one room was for the Custodian men, the other was for the Lycans, while I take one room for myself. Though I thought it was hardly a fair divide, from Cole and Kaleb’s adamant decision making - a first that both of them agreed on - it wasn’t up for a debate. But I wasn’t really against the idea.
Entering the room, which felt like a hotel rather than a room in a condo unit, I headed towards the bed and laid there for a moment - recollecting how much had happened in the span of weeks. I’d never expected to see myself in a Lycan compound, let alone two different ones in under a short time. If I was who I was before, I’d freak out knowing how comfortable I’ve been around Lycans. But now, my heart and mind told me a different story.
My trail of thoughts was interrupted when I heard a knock on my door.
“Come in! It’s open,” I called out in reply.
It was Cole, which I wasn’t surprised to see. I was getting slightly indifferent how I’m accustomed to it already.
“Hey, were you about to sleep?” Cole inquired as he poked his head at the small opening of the door.
“No. Is there something you need?” I countered.
“Henry wanted to talk now. He suddenly has something to do in an hour.”
“Now - Now?”
“Did you tell Kaleb and the rest of the guys?” I asked, observing he was asking strangely.
“I haven’t... yet. Do you want me to tell them?” He innocently asked.
I arched my eyebrow at the question. “I’m not doing this behind their backs, Cole. ’’ve already done enough damage on my relationship with them. This isn’t something I want to put a wedge between us.
“Right. Got it. I apologize for even thinking it was a possibility.”
I got up from the bed and met him by the door. “Come on. Let’s not make Henry wait. He seems like a busy man. And we’ve wasted enough time arguing something that shouldn’t be argued.”
Cole nodded and followed my lead as I headed towards the boys’ room. Once I’ve gathered everyone, Cole escorted the team to Henry’s office. From how familiar he was walking around the grand penthouse apartment, I finally noted it wasn’t his first time here. We all halted in front of an out-of-place wooden door at the far corner of the first floor. Cole knocked twice before entering the room. To my surprise, the interior design felt like I’ve stepped in a cottage than inside a top of a building. Even the curtains had a tacky print, which matched the overall look.
“I’m sorry I had to do this a bit early. I suddenly have a meeting across town and I won’t be back by late in the evening. Unless you could all wait that long, I’m okay with it.” Henry informed as we’ve all stepped inside the office.
“No. It’s okay. We don’t want to bother you after a long day of work,” I said. “How long do you have before you leave? This might take a while.”
“Can we do this in an hour?”
“If you start now,” I offered.
“Then, please make yourself at home.”
About half an hour, we’ve already covered most of the drama that conspired since we’ve arrived in Montana. From the lack of questions and expression on Henry’s face, I’m starting to swear with worry about how he was accepting all of the information we were giving him. But not once did his eyebrow crease in confusion or indifference. However, after I concluded the reason for our visit, Henry spoke up again. This time, he looked invested in getting the answers he needed.
“So let me get this straight, you’re here to get information from the Morgan family - the ruling Custodian in northern America - about an investigation of a case that happened nearly nine years ago. And you want to get that information without actually asking them. Because you might be accused of treason for thinking there’s a possibility that one of the Custodian conspired to what had happened?” He paused for a moment to catch his breath. “Did I get that right?”
“More or less,” I muttered in reply.
“So what can I do for you?” Henry offered. “You aren’t here just because you needed a place to stay. Am I wrong, Cole?” He turned to him, arching his eyebrow.
“No. You’re not wrong.” Cole huffed in defeat. “We want your help on getting that information. I know you have an informant within the Morgan compound. Your Clan is much more friendly with them than we are.”
“You’re asking something dangerous and possibly a bit impossible from me. Why do you look confident this might work?” Henry challenged.
“Because if you do this for me, the only surviving heir of the Knightley line would be in debt to you,” I interjected, looking at him dead in the eyes.
For the first time, Henry looked surprised. “You’re Rhoane Knightley? I heard you’re under the protected custody of the Minister of the Custodian Order. What are you doing in this godforsaken place?” His voice was a bit airy.
“You’ve already heard my story. Why do you think I’m here for?”
Henry studied my unwavering expression. He sighed heavily and looked at Cole. “This is a lot of secrets to keep, Cole. And to see she is also your other half... I’m speechless. How is that even possible?” He finally addressed the most heart-stopping fact.
“Trust me. We both are still on the mend on that,” I chuckled dryly. “But that’s not why we’re here, Mr. Lowell. Are you willing to lend us a hand?”
“If you’ve asked my father these questions, both of you may receive a cold welcome. But, I’m not my father. And I’m a man of opportunity. My little Lady Knightley, you have my support. I’ll call my informant and set you up on a meeting.”
My heart swelled as another window of luck opened.
Before Henry left for his business meeting, he gave us specific instructions about the secret meeting we have. He had given us the location and time. I was a bit impressed when I found out we were meeting his informant at a budget motel - very mission impossible vibe. Since the meeting time wasn’t until late in the evening, and for fear of getting recognized by passing Custodians in the area, we all stayed inside the penthouse. I decided to get the much-needed rest I’ve neglected to do. It wasn’t until dinner time I was bothered by one of Henry’s housekeeper, which I hadn’t seen since we arrived and walked to his office. Once I headed down the dining area for a meal, I noted I was the last to arrive. Everyone was already seated by the long, twelve-seated table, eating their fill. However, Cole, who sat at the head of the table, remained idle until he noticed me arrive.
He held up his hand and gestured for me to sit on his right, which was empty. On his left side was Ash then Dan.
“I waited for you. I thought you needed a bit more time to sleep.” Cole informed, his eyes glancing briefly at Kaleb, who sat on my right side.
“Thank you. But you should have eaten if you were hungry,” I lightly offered, trying to defend Kaleb, who seemed to stiffen after hearing Cole’s remark.
Cole didn’t press on and called one of the staff to serve my meal. Kaleb stayed silent and ignored Cole’s subtle verbal attack. I’m grateful for the control but annoyed how childish they’ve remained.
After we’ve had our fill, we all gathered in my room to prep for the meeting tonight. Axel and Dan were the last to enter my room, taking cautious measure to check the hallway for bystanders. Sure we were the only ones in the second floor of our hallway, but they did a quick sweep in my room for microphones or camera - just to be sure.
“Is there any possibility your cousin might betray us?” I inquired while I sat by the edge of the bed, watching everyone searching every nook and cranny of my room.
“I’m not worried about Henry. It’s his Clan I’m having some doubt on.” Cole answered,
“But isn’t this your mother’s Clan?”
“It was. But after Henry took over as Alpha, everything this Clan ever was had little trace of what it used to be. A lot of Lycans joined under his protection, which hardly happens to Clans as old as this when Roués from the south started raiding lands like animals.”
“What do you mean there are other Lycans under his protection?”
“Other than large Clans such us ours, there are smaller Lycan Clans. Mostly subsidiaries from the old times from multiple Alpha children. However, in this modern times, we no longer branch out from our main clan. So most of them merge with larger Clans for protection when Roués target them.”
“That’s very kind of him.”
“He is. We aren’t all beast as most of you Custodian think.” His words held no insult. It was the truth.
“Have you always see him with a high regard?”
“He is family and my cousin. Of course, I value him.”
I arched my eyebrow at the calculated response. However, rather than commenting, I kept my mouth shut and redirected the conversation back to tonight’s mission. And Kaleb had a lot to say. I was beginning to worry from his lack of verbal responses since we arrived in Texas. However, not once had he look like he didn’t want to be a part of it or leave us alone. His eyes were always searching and studying the situation. Hearing him speak now, I’m seeing his old laidback self back.
“Are you sure we should trust this set up your cousin had made? What if someone sets a trap? A trap particularly putting us all in trouble.” He looked a bit smug. After Cole narrated what we would be doing from this point until the meet up with the Custodian informant, he was all convinced.
“As I’ve said, my cousin is unlikely to betray me. He wouldn’t want to spark a conflict with his family.” Cole bleakly answered.
Kaleb nodded. “Right. Of course.”
Cole found his tone irritating, making his eyebrow crease with his hand balled into a fist. “If you have any more problems or concerns, just say it, Hunter.”
“I don’t have a problem. I’m game for tonight, whether or not it’ll kill us. But I’m blaming you if something happens to Roe.” The sarcasm on the last sentence was thick.
“Kaleb...” I called him out in warning as I watched Cole step a foot closer in his direction.
“I’m not putting her in any danger. And if she was, I’m not backing down from a fight.” Cole avowed. His voice loud and clear. I suddenly got weary if someone might overhear us.
Kaleb was about to challenge him again. But Tony and Ash butted in and started coordinating about who’s doing what, and people taking guard shifts a few perimeters from the meeting place. If someone was going to lay a trap, we should at least have a few seconds to react – seconds which could save our lives.
Once we resolved our task, we decided to meet back in my room two hours before the meeting and sneak out of the penthouse. I’m not so sure how we’d manage to do it since it’s a well-monitored, high-end real estate. However, as we finally got to the lobby a few minutes after we gathered again, no one had stopped and questioned our shady movements.
“Did Henry gave them a heads-up or something?” Ash wondered as we exited the building, feeling a bit of the cool night breeze of downtown Dallas.
“He might have told someone he trusts, but let’s not deal with the specifics. We all should focus on how we’ll get to that cheap motel, which is probably across town.” Cole countered.
“How about we take the local train? They have one here, right?” Tony suggested.
“They do. But we have to walk a bit further to get there.” Cole informed.
“They don’t have buses within the city?” Tony questioned again.
Cole pursed his lips and didn’t give him a verbal response. Instead, he headed out towards the end of the block. It wasn’t then I noticed a bus stop. We didn’t have to wait long for it to arrive. I’m glad the Lycans were financially ready for this trip since we were on a tight budget. Once we arrived at the train station, it wasn’t a hassle to find our stop and get on the next bus to our final location. Since the place was located a bit further from the city, we were growing weary at the unfamiliar territory.
“Cole, are you sure we’re in the right place?” I asked in worry.
For the twentieth time, Cole checked his phone for the location and nodded with confidence. “Yeah, we’re only a block away.”
A few minutes later he announced we’ve arrived once we faced a shabby looking motel, with a matching pastel yellow paint on the building and even a small pool, which I knew no one was interested in diving from the murky waters.
“I’ll head up the office and check-in at the reserved room. The rest of you wait there by the door,” Cole instructed.
We all nodded in unison before dispersing towards our designated areas. Dan headed out to survey the outer perimeter, while Ash stayed with Cole. Axel did the inner perimeter while Kaleb and Tony stayed with me.
“As much as I feel confident this is going so well and smooth - though I don’t want to jinx it - I feel like it’s going too well and smooth... you know what I mean?” Tony commented as he leaned on the railing, facing the room with the number 14 on the door.
“Let’s not think of the negatives, Tony. I’m glad something right and helpful has finally happened,” I muttered in defeat.
“Of course I’m glad as well. Yet after all those surprises... do you think it’ll be a happy ending by going with this choice?” Tony stressed again, which was slowly getting on my nerves.
“In reality, there is no such thing as a happy ending in the eyes of the one who wanted more in life. For me, all I wanted is to find out what happened to my family. So yes, I’m positive that from where this is going, I’m getting my happy ending. And I’ll continue fighting to get it.”
Rather than having only Kaleb and Tony hear my outburst, there was another audience only a few steps away, who looked amused by my speech.
“It’s been a while since I heard such a strong-willed opinion about life.” The three of us turned in unison at the stranger, our eyes widening in shock for not noticing him being so close. “Don’t fret. I’m one of the good guys.” He added upon seeing our expressions.
“No one whose up to any good would say that.” Tony snorted as he slowly made a defensive stance in front of me. “And who are you?”
“Alpha Lowell had sent me. My name’s Kent, a member of the Morgan family. I presume you are the Custodian I’ll be meeting tonight.”
Both Tony and Kaleb exchanged a quick glance before turning to the Custodian, Kent. “How are you confident we are the ones you are looking for?” Tony asked, studying him wearily.
“Her.” He pointed at me without shame. “I’d never forgotten the young Lady Knightley’s face. You’ve grown into such a lovely woman. My condolences about what happened to your family nine years ago. I saw the aftermath of what those Roués had done to your home and family.”
My heart tightened at his words, but I was growing more suspicious and weary at what Kent was telling us. And knowing about a Custodian who might possibly help bring my family’s demise, I’m even more cautious towards my own kind - even more so when he blatantly told me he was there that night. From the information we’ve received, one of those Custodian who was present during the investigation after the death of my family had betrayed our people.
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