LOVE IS A JOURNEY…NOT A DESTINATION.
Charlotte sat back and watched her cousin, Aelwyn—the Regina—talk with her head of security, Mekhi. Charlotte didn’t envy her cousin’s position. Being on the throne, queen of their kind, wasn’t an easy place to be in the best of times. Hell, Charlotte herself was fourth in line for the throne, and she prayed daily the title never fell to her. Prayers that had become more fervent with recent events—attempts on the lives of the royal family.
“Thank you for coming,” Mekhi said, turning to face Charlotte. “We appreciate your help in this situation and your discretion. The fewer people involved at this point, the better. Until we know how far this reaches…”
“I understand,” Charlotte assured. “I will do all I can to aid you in the investigation.”
Mekhi turned his gaze toward Aelwyn. “Griffon is still asking questions.”
“Of course he’s asking questions,” she snapped. “His brother was killed, and he wants answers. That isn’t so difficult to understand, is it?”
“Aelwyn,” he said on a sigh.
She closed her eyes, pressed her fingertips to her lids, and inhaled deeply. Charlotte met Mekhi’s eyes and smiled sympathetically. When Aelwyn opened her eyes again, she immediately looked at Charlotte.
“Apologies, cousin. These are…trying times.”
Charlotte nodded. “Of course. Again, I’ll do all I can. I’m assuming this Griffon is the man I’m to investigate.”
“Yes.” Mekhi nodded. “He’s outside waiting now to speak to the Regina. His brother, Kenin, was one of our Enforcers, and evidence has come to light that he was involved in Traian’s death.”
At the mention of Aelwyn’s brother’s name, he drew in a shuddered breath and bowed his head a moment. Charlotte had to give him credit, he was every bit the picture of the grieving friend. She, on the other hand, was having a more difficult time discussing Traian. Aelwyn and their people believed him dead, but Charlotte had shared a beer with him not a week earlier in a London pub. Her family in England, Traian’s mate, and Mekhi were the only ones beside her who knew the truth—Kenin had failed. Traian had survived and was spearheading an investigation into his own murder.
Charlotte knew she wasn’t as skilled at this sort of thing as Mekhi and hoped her awkward silences were interpreted as those of a mourning woman who’d lost a cousin who’d been one of her closest friends.
Clearing his throat, Mekhi continued, “It’s believed the plot to kill Traian, and other royals, goes much farther than just Kenin. Our first step is to figure out if Griffon or any of the rest of his family is involved. Griffon sits on the Council and has a fair amount of influence. If he is a part of this, he needs to be eliminated. Immediately.”
Aelwyn crossed the room and sat next to Charlotte, taking her hands. “We appreciate your help; we know what a wonderful investigator you are, but…” She pressed her lips together. “Mekhi, there has to be a better way than this.”
“No,” Charlotte stated before the man could reply. “This is the best route to take. This way it’ll be easier for me to access information and learn what we need.”
“But it isn’t fair.” Aelwyn frowned, and Charlotte chuckled.
“Stop pouting like we’re children again. It isn’t a question of fair, Wyn.” She squeezed her cousin’s fingers. “This is what I do. Mekhi isn’t forcing me to do anything; I volunteered. Don’t worry about me.”
“Impossible.” Aelwyn’s lips quirked up in a small smile. “It would be helpful to have more information. I haven’t even seen the evidence against Kenin, and—”
“We’ve been through this,” Mekhi bit out. “The fewer details you know, the better at this point in time. I will not put you in danger simply so you can have all the information possible. My priority is to keep you safe; every decision I make is with that in mind, including this.”
She stared at him a moment, cheeks slightly flushed, then responded, “I understand and appreciate that. It doesn’t lessen my frustration. And what if Griffon has nothing to do with this alleged plot? My cousin is then trapped in a situation we created.”
“Aelwyn,” Charlotte said sharply. “I’m not being trapped. This is a ‘situation’ I’ve expected for as long as I can remember, so your guilt is unfounded and unnecessary.”
After another quick finger squeeze, Charlotte released Aelwyn and stood. She smoothed her palms over the fabric of her trousers to hide the twinge of nervousness she felt, despite trying to keep a cool, calm façade in place for those around her.
“Now,” she said firmly, “Mekhi, ask Griffon in. It’s time I met my intended.
Griffon paced the floor outside the Regina’s offices, impatience roiling through him, giving way to anger. This was just the latest visit to the Regina in a long string of them, with him hoping to get some answers about Kenin’s death. So far, nothing. Aside from the fact his brother was killed, Griffon had nothing. Unless one counted questions from his mother and father, curious looks from colleagues and an all-consuming feeling that secrets were being kept.
The oak door swung open, and Griffon turned toward it in a blur. Mekhi, the Enforcer who headed the Regina’s security detail, met Griffon’s gaze and nodded.
“The Regina will see you now,” he said quietly, stepping to the side to allow Griffon to pass.
Griffon walked into the large, spacious office, finding his queen standing beside another woman. They were clearly waiting for him. He crossed to stand before the Regina and bowed.
“Thank you for seeing me, my Lady,” he murmured. “I apologize for bothering you again, but—”
“It’s no bother,” she exclaimed, reaching for both his hands as he straightened. “How is your family?”
“Doing well. All things considered.”
She nodded slowly.
“I’m not trying to be rude,” he said quickly before she could speak, deciding the best course of action was to lay it all out, “but I need to know what happened to my brother. My family and I need answers, closure.”
She looked at him, sadness clear in her dark eyes. “I know, Griffon, and I wish I had more answers for you.”
“You know more than you’re telling me,” he insisted tightly, gripping her hands and stepping closer.
“Back off,” Mekhi snapped, suddenly next to them, iron fingers digging into Griffon’s shoulder.
“It’s all right,” the Regina said calmly, not looking at her protector.
“It’s not.” He added pressure, and Griffon refused to show any reaction, though he figured the man might cleave through the muscles and hit bone at any moment. “You will unhand the Regina now and step back.”
Griffon waited a moment then acquiesced.
“Your brother was an Enforcer. There are risks with that position. Risks your brother was well aware of. As a member of the Council, you understand he may have been working on a number of assignments from a number of sources. And you also understand,” Mekhi lowered his voice slightly, “the sensitivity of some of the assignments given.”
“Of course I understand, but this is my brother. And as a Council member,” he pointed out, “I’m privy to sensitive information.”
“Not all of it.”
“Enough,” the Regina said shortly then her expression softened. “Griffon, I understand your frustration. I, too, recently lost my brother, and while I want answers—and want them now—I need to wait for them to be found. Speculation and false leads aren’t going to help either of us. We need to be patient and allow the investigations to take place. Everything is being done to find answers about Kenin and his death. I promise you that.”
Griffon inhaled deeply. This was getting him nowhere. He needed to look elsewhere for his answers, do his own investigating.
“Thank you, my Lady. I won’t waste anymore of your time.”
“Wait, Griffon,” she protested. “I didn’t ask you here to talk about your brother. Well, not only for that.”
“What do you need from me, Regina?” he forced himself to say through his annoyance and impatience.
“Need? Your loyalty.”
“And you have that. Always.”
“And your family’s?”
Griffon frowned. “My family has always been loyal.” He glanced at Mekhi, who watched them in stony silence, then back at the Regina. “You question that?”
“No, but sometimes a…gesture is required.” She locked her gaze on his.
“And what gesture does my Regina require?” he asked slowly.
“Align your family with mine.” She shifted slightly to the side, and Griffon’s attention landed on the blonde woman in the room…the woman he’d forgotten about almost immediately.
His stomach knotted, and his jaw ached something fierce as his teeth ground together. Realization dawned, and a not so fuzzy feeling settled over him.
“How?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.
“This is Charlotte, my favorite cousin.”
“Hello, Griffon.” Charlotte stepped forward, but kept her hands clasped in front of her. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, at last.”
Griffon lifted a brow at the weak pleasantry and waited for the Regina to say the words.
She took one of his hands and one of her cousin’s and held them together. “Meet your mate.”