Luke Blake tried not to walk too fast or too slow down the main hallway to the general’s office. He swung his arms a bit, thought better of it, and held them a bit tighter to his body. No, too stiff. Maybe if he changed his pace?
“Why are you walking weird?”
Luke flinched then turned his head and smiled at his cousin Matthew Blake, tilting his head up slightly, his brown eyes scanning his cousin, and felt his confidence shrivel up as it always did when faced with his perfect Alpha relative. It was hard not to when faced with the Adonis. Not that he called him that himself. That would just be silly. But he’d heard people call Matt that over the years behind his back. And Luke always agreed with them. With his tall 6’3 frame, piercing blue eyes, chiseled jaw, wavy dirty blonde hair, and that dimple that appeared every time he spoke, the term Adonis fit him perfectly. If Luke wasn’t related to Matt and knew what a wonderful personality existed behind that perfect face, he would have hated his cousin. But he didn’t. Matt was his hero, his role model, and in a way, older brother the whole twenty-three years of his life. He could never hate Matt.
So he smiled sheepishly and shook his head. “Just...nervous.”
Matt smiled that familiar encouraging smile and patted his shoulder the way he always did. “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s a routine meeting. He just probably want some updates. We’ll answer his questions, nod our heads, and be out of there in a jiff.”
Luke wanted to agree. He usually did. After all, Matt was usually right. But this time felt different. It may have been his father’s tone when he called him last night and told him about the sudden meeting. He sounded strained, worried. Which didn’t bode well for Luke.
He took a shuddering breath as they reached the doors to the office and stood straight, trying to match his cousin’s confident stance. Which was stupid. At 5’9 he could never match Matt’s height. But he could stand like him. He narrowed his eyes at the door while Matt raised his hand and knocked.
“Enter,” the voice inside boomed.
Matt gave him one last quick smile. “Into the dragon’s den we go!”
Well that wasn’t helpful, Luke groused as he followed Matt into the room. His eyes quickly looked around, his heart sinking further when he realized there was only one person in the room. Not good.
“Sit down you two,” General Lucas Blake said, his steely eyes boring into Luke’s and he could swear the old man could tell what he was thinking. So he tried to wipe his mind blank and cautiously sat down next to Matt. He saw Matt place his clasped hands on the table and quickly followed suit, sitting straight. He stared at the General, what he’d taken to calling him in his head since he gained the position twelve years ago, and felt himself shiver slightly as those blue eyes seemed to pierce into him. Even in his sixties, the General still looked intimidating. His hair was mostly grey than white, as if refusing to submit to time. Same went for his body as he seemed to tower over them even though he was sitting across the table. He was as tall as Matt and bulkier, his muscles still firm but showing signs of wear, making him the most intimidating person in Luke’s life. Besides his dad. But that was different. His dad was more-
“Where’s the other one?” Lucas asked, cutting off Luke’s train of thought, his pale blue eyes narrowed with displeasure.
“Probably on his way,” Matt replied calmly.
Luke didn’t move a muscle, knowing Matt’s answer was more than enough to satisfy the austere general. And apparently it did because they sat in silence for the next few minutes, no one so much as moving a muscle.
Suddenly, the door banged open and his other cousin, Jason, waltzed into the room, his shoulder length dark auburn hair in disarray, his military shirt unbuttoned over a blue shirt and his belt buckled wrong. As usual.
“Sorry I’m late,” Jason said yawning. “My alarm didn’t go off.”
Luke didn’t so much as turn his head as Jason plopped himself down on the chair next to him and leaned back, sitting comfortably and smiled at the general.
“Did I miss anything?” Jason asked cheerfully and Luke wanted to sigh, a familiar reaction whenever he had to listen to his older cousin. At twenty-five, he was two years older than Luke, which meant they should have been close. But there was something about Jason that never allowed them to get closer. Which suited Luke fine. He had Matt after all, and that was all he needed.
“I was just about to start,” Lucas said, glaring at Jason who only smiled more widely. “As you know, the Leonard family just solved a big espionage case. This will elevate them a lot in their status.”
“Yes, I heard about that sir,” Matt replied respectfully. “It was a big case. They really tried their best.”
Lucas’s gaze narrowed at Matt. “Praising the rival family isn’t exactly the best idea right now Matthew. This is their second case this month. While you three have none.”
“I’m almost done wrapping up a murder case,” Matt said. “I’m adding the last touches before I send out my Eagles.”
Lucas nodded approvingly, then turned his gaze to Jason. “And you?”
Jason flicked his hand, his voice reflecting his apathetic personality. “Oh, I’m still working on it. Big case and all. All those drugs everywhere. Might take a bit longer.”
Lucas frowned but didn’t say anything, already expecting that answer, and Luke felt the sweat on his back increase, knowing that he would be next. And sure enough, Lucas shifted his gaze to him, his eyes narrowed slightly. “And you? Luke?”
Luke swallowed, then cleared his throat for good measure. Last time he spoke to the general he’d squeaked a bit and his dad wasn’t happy about that. “I’m making progress. I’ve narrowed down the list of suspects who may have had access to the jewels.”
“May have had access?” Lucas drawled, cocking one salt and pepper colored eyebrow and it took all of Luke’ effort not to lick his lips nervously. His dad told him plenty of times how much of a tell that was.
“Yes sir. We need to shift through all the possibilities.”
Lucas sighed wearily and leaned back in his chair. Not a good sign. “Boys. I’m not going to lie to you. Our numbers aren’t great. Compared to the Cunningham and Leonard family, we solve only one-third of the cases they do. We can at least say we’re doing better than the Mortimer and Towper families. If they beat us that would just be….” Lucas shuddered and shook his head. “Anyway, we need some drastic changes.”
Luke didn’t like the sound of that. His eyes flicked between his cousins, trying to gauge if they felt as anxious as he did, but Matt’s expression remained passive and Jason was playing with one of the buttons on his uniform.
“Jason, your father is going to talk to you after this. He came up with a good idea and will tell you all about it.”
“Can’t wait,” Jason drawled, his eyes still glued to his shirt.
“Matthew, I’m assigning you a new team of Eagles. Maybe that will help you pick up the pace a bit.”
“And Luke,” Lucas paused for a second and this time, Luke couldn’t stop his tongue when it flicked out, licking his bottom lip. “You seem to be struggling a bit in getting your cases completed. I know you’re doing your best and being very thorough, but we aren’t getting the results we need. Your father and I think you need a change of scenery a bit. Maybe get some polish. Try a new environment.”
Luke didn’t like the sound of this. Not at all. And as the general spoke, he could hear the pounding in his head growing louder and louder.
“We’re sending you to Orpheus.”
His brain exploded. The waves rushed through and he couldn’t hear anything. He saw Lucas’s lips move but no sounds reached him. They were sending him to Orpheus? He was being cast out? Rejected? But...no! That wasn’t what he wanted! No!
Lucas stopped talking, the waves stopped rushing, and Luke realized he’d spoke aloud. Well crap.
“With all due respect...sir,” Luke said, unable to stop his voice from trembling. “I..don’t think sending me to Orpheus is the best solution. After all, the crimes there are different.”
“Exactly. We think those will suit you better. The base there reached out to various cities in Dracus, asking for any officials we can send. We thought it would be a good fit for you. When you’re ready, you can of course, come back.”
Luke wanted to scream some more, tell everyone that he wasn’t a failure, that he was just as hard-working and good as everyone else. But his mouth wouldn't move.
“Grandfather,” Matt said and Luke quickly turned to look at him, hoping his childhood hero would somehow be able to help him. “Sending Luke away might not be the best idea. We can support him here. Give him more training. More advice.”
“And who will do that? You?” Lucas shook his head and Luke’s heart dropped to his stomach. “No. You are busy enough as it is. Your second cousin Gareth is graduating and can take Luke’s place for now. It’s done. The paperwork is already filed. They expect you there next week.”
And just like that, it was over. Luke’s career in the Plutus military. He wanted to hang his head in shame but sat straight instead, knowing that was what was expected of him. “Yes sir. I will do my best there sir.”
Lucas nodded and Luke once against cursed that he was born a Beta while taking on all the responsibilities of a Blake, ones he couldn’t do as a Beta in an Alpha dominant world.
Matt stood outside Luke’s aparmtent door then finally knocked.
“Its open,” Luke called out.
Matt quickly stepped into the apartment, closing and locking the door behind him. All he could think about as they left their grandfather was comforting his forlorn younger cousin. He’d tried to talk to him when they left, but Luke said he had to pack and walked away, quickly. He knew he was running away and Matt just wanted to give him a big hug, just like he used to when they were kids.He looked at his Beta cousin who was avoiding his eyes as he packed some of his trinkets into his luggage. No. They weren’t kids anymore. A hug wouldn’t solve anything now.
“I’m sorry Luke,” Matt said softly.
“Hey, it’s fine,” Luke said, his voice full of fake cheer. “Might be nice to get away for awhile you know. See what other parts of Dracus are like. Who knows? I might even like it there.”
Matt waited for Luke to look at him, but the Beta kept his head down, thrusting more possessions into his bag. He saw him toss a rag inside and sighed, realizing that Luke was so heartbroken he didn’t even know what he was doing.
His heart went out to his twenty-three year-old cousin, the same way it always did while they were growing up. He couldn’t help it. At twenty-seven, he was the oldest with Jason the second oldest at twenty-five. They were all only children, all related to the main Blake family through their fathers, and he felt like their older brother. While Jason rejected him long ago and made it clear he had no interest in anything Matt had to offer, Luke was different. He was always more sensitive, more emotional. And Matt was always more than willing to give him a comforting hug or lecture, anything to make his younger cousin smile.
Oh, when life was less complicated and a simple lollipop could fix everything.
“Yeah. Who knows, you might like it there,” Matt said cheerfully, taking the rag out of Luke’s bag and placing it on the counter.
Luke stilled, his eyes on the ground and Matt placed his hands on his shoulder, waiting for the Beta to finally look up at him. “You’ll be OK. You’ll be away from it all. Fresh start. And I’ll come visit. I promise.”
Luke smiled tremulously and nodded. “You better.”
“Now, let’s pack stuff you actually need,” Matt said, pulling out the glass cube Luke shoved in his bag.
The Beta winced and looked into the contents. “Yeah. Might want to start over actually.”
Two hours later, Matt felt a bit better as he drove back to the base form Luke’s apartment. They all lived in the luxurious Blake apartment building fifteen minutes away from the base, making it easier for the family to have emergency meetings, which they often had. Each apartment was almost identical. Three bedrooms, two spacious living rooms, a study, a giant kitchen, balcony, and four bathrooms. They were also decorated similarly, unless the person wanted to add their own personal touches. Like Matt. Just like every other Blake, once he reached eighteen, he was given his own apartment, a few floors away from his parent’s, given the number of a decorator, a catalogue, and told to do as he wished. He’d wasted no time in making it his own, and when Luke got his, he followed suit. He didn’t know what Jason did, but given how apathetic and careless the guy was, he probably just had his secretary handle it all. Except his gym. Lord knows if Jason wasn’t out partying, sleeping, or eating, he was working out, which is why he was stockier than Matt despite being an inch shorter. Then again, Matt didn’t exercise too much, preferring to remain more lean than built.
Matt frowned as he thought about Jason, the black sheep in their trio, and wondered once again if he could do anything to help his cousin. But he’d reached out to him so many times and in different ways over the years and nothing good ever came out of it. Matt shook his head, turning his thoughts to the person who really did need him and suppressed a sigh.
Luke seemed a bit better when he left and Matt promised to come spend time with him every day before he left. He felt a lump in his throat at the thought of his little cousin moving across the country. They had always lived only two minutes away from each other. It was going to take some getting used to.
Matt walked into the foyer leading to his office and paused when he caught sight of his secretary, his breath catching slightly. As usual, the Omega looked gorgeous. His hair was a perfect shade of chestnut brown that complimented his hazel eyes to perfection. There was a soft pink tinge to his cheeks, reminding Matt of a baby cupid. He certainly had the mouth for it. Even after working together for over a year, Matt still couldn’t get used to the sight of his secretary and always needed to pause for a second before he actually spoke to him.
Finally, Matt cleared his throat and walked in, smiling winningly. “Hi, Connor. Did I get any messages?”
Connor Lawrence shook his head, wearing that familiar stoic but professional expression on his face. “No sir. I already emailed you the profiles of the new Eagles who will be joining your team. I looked through them myself when HR sent them and they seem like a good group overall.”
Matt continued smiling down at the Omega who was still sitting in his seat, his face blank as he stared back at him. “You think so? Well, I’ll trust you then.”
Connor didn’t so much as blink at the subtle compliment, his tone still brisk as he answered. “You don’t have to take my word for it. You’re still the colonel. You have to make your own decision.”
Matt wanted to sigh in resignation, a reaction he always felt around Connor. “I’ll do that. Thanks.”
Quickly Matt entered his office and closed the door, shaking his head wearily as he sat down behind his desk. Did the Omega ever smile? Matt had tried everything he could to get to know him the last year, and so far, all he knew was he seemed to like the color blue. Because he wore lots of blue shirts. That’s it. And he wasn’t even sure if he liked the color or wore it since the colonel uniform was navy blue.
He’d tried asking the Omega questions about his favorite food, favorite book, if he saw the latest movies, but he always managed to avoid actually answering the simplest personal questions, turning the topic back to work, his professional tone and expression never changing.
He knew he should just leave it alone. If Connor didn’t want to reveal anything about himself that was his choice. But something about the stoic Omega preyed on his big brother instinct and he couldn’t seem to let it go. One way or another, he was finally going to find out something about the Omega, even if it was just how he drank his coffee.
Jason kept his stride at an even pace as he gamboled to his father’s office. The meeting with his grandfather went as expected. He said stuff. Jason nodded. Then he left. Same old same old. The fact that his father wanted to talk to him wasn’t alarming either. He always wanted to talk to him after his grandfather did, dissecting every move and word that was spoken in the meeting.
So Jason would do his thing, his dad would rant, call him a failure, a disappointment, whatever, and he’d go back to his office, pretend to do his work, and another day would go by. Just like the day before.
Jason reached his father’s office, ignored the secretary and turned the door knob and walked in without knocking.
“I’m here. Let’s get this over with.” Jason strolled to the set of chairs in front of his father’s desk and sat down, then shifted sideways so he lay with his back against an armrest and his legs draped on the other side.
His gaze lifted to his father and he smiled while his father gave him that familiar glare, his brown eyes piercing into Jason’s blue ones. Ah, some things never change.
“Sit properly,” Quinton Blake barked, his tone dripping with loathing as usual.
Jason sighed and shifted on the chair, slouching slightly.
“I heard you haven’t progressed at all on your case,” Quinton said.
“Not really. There’s a lot to go through you know. Gonna take some time.”
“You mean, it’ll take time for your Eagles to go through it.”
Jason could have argued but what was the point. His father knew he never actually worked on the cases. “Well, they know this stuff better than me. Might as well let them handle it.”
“Which is why I got you a new Eagle,” Quinton said, his face almost softening for the first time in years.
Jason felt a stirring of discomfort at the expression and he saw his father’s eyes travel behind him. Slowly, he sat up and turned in his seat, finally realizing there was another body in the room.
“Jason, meet Ren. He’s going to be your new head Eagle.”
Jason watched as the Beta walked forward and thought the name Ren suited him. The guy certainly looked like a crow with that black hair and his eyes a dark pool. His shirt and pants were all black too. Even his shoes. Did the guy have any clothes with actual color?
“You got me the grim reaper?” Jason drawled, smirking at the Beta as he got up and walked around him, inspecting him from head to toe. To his credit, the Beta didn’t even move, his expression blank while Jason slowly let his eyes rove over him. He was pretty small for a Beta. Barely 5’7. Most Betas he knew were about Luke’s height. He felt his confidence grow as he allowed his 6’2 frame to tower over the smaller Beta, his father’s pathetic latest attempt to reign him in. Like hell.
“Looks good. If you go to my office my secretary will give you full access. Enjoy.” Jason placed his hand on the Beta’s shoulder and pushed him down slightly for good measure before he left, whistling his way through the building.
“So,” Quinton said when the door closed behind the precious Blake grandson. “What do you think?”
“He’s exactly as you described him sir,” Ren replied, walking forward and stopping in front of his superior’s desk. He stood with his legs spread wide, hands clasped behind his back, his normal stance after years of training. He stared straight at Quinton, noting once again how little he looked like his son with his brown hair and brown eyes. His face was also harsher, more muscular while Jason could only be called beautiful. He heard the Alpha took after his Omega mother so it made sense.
“Think you can make something out of him?”
Ren pictured Jason’s long, wavy red hair, his lazy walk and cocky smile. His uniform unbuttoned over a regular T-shirt that showed off the muscles that had clearly been sculpted by hours at the gym. If Ren hadn’t grown up around Alphas and Beta who were more muscular than Jason and got their bulk through honest hard work, he would have been intimidated. Instead, the lean but well-muscled Alpha’s strength did not impress him one bit.
He smirked and looked down at Quinton. “Piece of cake.” After all, he loved nothing more than putting arrogant jerks in their place. He recalled the way Jason leered over him, using his height to try and intimidate his new babysitter and felt a thrum of excitement in his veins. This was going to be fun.