Romi’s palms had been sweating for at least an hour—the entire time since Deacon Swain had summoned her from her quarters. She shouldn’t have been surprised to see Aric waiting in the Deacon’s outer chambers, yet her steps faltered regardless at his broad, welcoming grin. Wrongly she had assumed that she would be given time to get to know Aric before being sent off to dangerous parts of the world with him.
He had attempted twice to take her hand in what he meant as a relaxing gesture, but both times Romi swatted him away as a reflex. After the third time she yanked her hand back so roughly that she upset the vase on the table next to her.
“Aric, I know you’re trying to help but I don’t calm easily!” she cried in exasperation.
He shook his head at her and straightened the vase of lilies. “Look, I understand that you’re trained to stay on your guard, but I’m your partner and you’re going to have to learn to trust me.”
“Trust isn’t something lightly given, you have to earn it.”
“Well how am I meant to earn it if I’m never given the opportunity?”
Unable to think of an argument, Romi exhaled through her nose in frustration and slapped her open hand into Aric’s.
Fighting back a grin, Aric used his thumbs and began tracing the lines on her palm with varying degrees of pressure. He looked up when he heard a small gasp, but didn’t stop the rhythmic massage. Romi’s eyes slid out of focus and she slumped lightly against the back of her chair.
A few minutes later she shook her head to clear the fog that had taken over her consciousness. Aric was watching her triumphantly, still cradling her hands in his own.
“How did you do that?” asked Romi in awe.
“It’s a little trick we’re taught to keep away the strain of the job.”
Romi opened her mouth to speak but was abruptly cut off when the door to Deacon Swain’s office opened.
“How lovely to see you two getting along so well,” said the Deacon good-naturedly.
With a groan of embarrassment Romi snatched her hands away from Aric’s and stood up. “It’s not what you think, sir.”
“Oh relax, child, Mr. Doyle here has the favor of all of his Academy Professors. You are in excellent hands, my dear,” he said, ushering the young duo into his office.
Aric shot Romi a smug look before entering, causing her cheeks to redden. Once inside, they sat down in oversized black armchairs directly across from where the Deacon was seated at his desk. Deacon Renaldo Swain looked them over critically for a few minutes, before clearing his throat dramatically.
“I don’t think I need to tell either of you that you’ve received outstanding recommendations from all of your teachers. Your marks are beyond impressive, and you both scored the highest in your finals setting records at both the Academy and the Order. Normally your first mission is a carefully regulated field assignment with minimal risk involved; however, we have something else in mind for the two of you.”
Aric exchanged a worried glance with Romi. “What exactly are we talking about, sir?”
“Our motherhouses are being infiltrated. The devil’s spies have found a way to corrupt certain Guardians of the Trinity, and we need to weed them out. All of our current Guardians are known to the enemy and this is why we need fresh faces for this particular job. I cannot speak the particulars aloud, as the devil has ears everywhere, but everything you need to succeed is in here.”
Deacon Swain procured a worn leather duffel bag and handed it to Aric. With trembling hands he put the bag over his shoulder.
“You can count on us, Deacon,” said Romi, placing a strong hand on Aric’s upper back.
“May God be with you, children.”