LAURA TAYLORFantasy and Romance Writer
The Family Line
“It’s Emica’s birthday on Saturday, right?” Val asked, looking up from his computer to glance at Kentario, who was sprawled on the sofa, reading a book.
“Yeah. Kid sister’s growing up.”
“Are you doing anything special?”
“Nah. Might take her out to dinner, but she’s probably more interesting in going out with her friends. Which is fine by me. I’m getting too old to babysit.”
Val chuckled at the description. Emica was one of the finest fighters in the Royal Guard, and it had been years since she needed any real protection from her older brother.
“She’s turning twenty-two, right? Any word on her soulmate?” Ryu asked, from where he was battling a behemoth in his latest video game.
“Funny you should mention that, actually,” Kentario said, sticking a finger in between the pages of his book. “She got a call from SoulWorks on Wednesday a week ago. Didn’t tell me about it until Monday,” he added, clear disapproval in his voice. “Not that I should be upset that she doesn’t trust her own brother, or anything.”
Valentin rolled his eyes. “Seriously? Because clearly, you’re going to be entirely supportive of any decision your little sister makes. Particularly if it involves focusing on anything other than her training in the Royal Guard.”
“Oh, stick it up your ass,” Kentario griped at Val. “I’m not that bad.”
“Is that an offer?” Val asked, with a rakish quirk of his eyebrow, which earned him a snorting laugh from Ryu.
“And you tell me not to encourage him.”
“Her soulmate’s an environmental scientist,” Kentario said, ignoring them both. “Works at the Azrahn aquarium. They met for coffee last weekend, and apparently, they really hit it off.”
“So what’s his name?” Ryu asked, pausing his game. He twisted around in his chair, waiting eagerly for Kentario to answer.
There was a telling pause. “Her name is Ieko. She’s twenty-one years old, and she’s a beta.” He cleared his throat deliberately. “Couldn’t quite figure out if she was more worried about my reaction to her being matched with a commoner, a beta, or a woman.”
“Seriously?” Ryu asked, turning all the way around now. He knelt up on his arm chair and hung over the back, a half-hearted glare on his face. “You’d have a problem with her dating a commoner?”
“Of course I don’t have a fucking problem with it,” Kentario growled at him. “I damn well married a commoner,” he said, flinging his arm towards Valentin. “But Dad was so gung-ho on the whole tradition thing, I guess she just assumed I’d agree with his philosophies.”
“We should invite them over for dinner,” Valentin suggested. “It’s been a while since we just had a casual evening with Emica.”
“How about we just let them get to know each other, first,” Ryu said, turning back to his game. “There’s nothing worse than family butting their noses into private business. Once Emica’s got things under control, she’ll bring Ieko to meet us in her own time.”
“I don’t remember you being that patient about meeting your own soulmate,” Kentario muttered.
“I don’t recall you complaining about the night I decided I wasn’t going to wait anymore,” Ryu shot back, tossing a saucy grin over his shoulder.
“I do actually have one question,” Val said, then hastily added, “and I’m referring to Emica, not your nocturnal dalliances,” before either Ryu or Kentario could follow up with an even more salacious comment. “If you’re married to two alphas, and Emica’s soulmate is a beta… who’s going to continue the family line?”
Kentario shrugged. “That’s actually a good question…”
Cael flinched, then tried to hide it, as he took a seat next to his new lab partner, a man named Rie Yamato. It was a mere three days since he’d started his marine science course, and already, his identity as a child of the famous Amagarda family was making itself known.
“Yeah,” he said shortly, glancing at his partner. Rie was tall and broad shouldered, with the typical black hair and dusky skin of most of the Galandanish population. Hopefully, he wasn’t going to cause a problem.
“It must kind of suck, being a noble omega.” It was hard tell whether his tone carried sympathy or derision. Though Cael hadn’t said anything about his gender, he realised belatedly that the shirt he’d worn today allowed an observant bystander to catch a glimpse of the scent glands on his neck. And being well below six feet tall, with a slender build, there was little chance that anyone might accidentally mistake him for an alpha.
“Kind of surprised to see you an university at all,” Rie went on, as the professor at the front of the room carried on assigning his students to their study partners. “Most noble families want to marry their omegas off and get them to start making babies as soon as possible.”
“Is that what you think I should be doing?” Cael asked mildly. Thirty seconds in, and his partner was already turning out to be a right prick. A sideways glance confirmed what Cael suspected; there was a scent gland sitting just under Rie’s shirt collar. The arrogant bastard was an alpha.
But to Cael’s surprised, Rie suddenly looked affronted. “What? Me? No! Bloody hell. I’ve known some damn smart omegas. My cousin’s one. She just finished her law degree. Refused to marry her alpha soulmate, after he tried to tell her which law firms she was allowed to apply for. Odin’s ass, no one should use my cousin’s name, and the words ‘allowed to’ in the same sentence. She gave him a right dressing down, then kicked him out of her house and threatened to get a restraining order against him if he ever comes near her again. So no, I’m not going to tell any omega what they should or shouldn’t be doing. I was just saying, it must be tough, cos a lot of noble families still have pretty traditional views.”
“Yeah, well… my father’s not around anymore,” Cael told Rie. “My brother’s the head of the family now, and he’s…” He paused, a frown creasing his forehead as he reflected on Kentario’s most unexpected behaviour over the last couple of years. “Actually, he’s turned out to be a lot more open-minded than I was expecting. Which worked out well for me, I guess.”
“Looks like you got lucky,” Rie said. “Anyway, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He held out his hand for Cael to shake. “But I gotta warn you, I worked my ass off to get into this course, so I hope you’re not thinking of slacking off while we study all about algae and plankton.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Cael said, accepting his hand to shake. Then he suddenly froze, as he caught sight of a thin, dark pattern snaking its way across Rie’s thumb. It looked rather like an ocean wave, the peaking crest curving to the left, an irregular line suggesting a spray of foam.
The exact same mark was imprinted on Cael’s left thigh.
Well, he thought, as he forced a smile, trying to calm the sudden thrill of anticipation welling up inside him. It was going to be a rather interesting semester after all.