Livia’s brother Hyrum looked at her car skeptically. “Liv, I could give you another car.”
Livia looked at the gray car that she’d worked non-stop for two years to purchase on her sixteenth birthday. It was old then and even older now but she still loved it. It had traveled with her everywhere she’d gone since then. It was coming with her now as she drove off to college.
Hyrum ran a hand through his hair, frustrated. “Like, Quin collected cars. I inherited four. I use one. Caecilia uses one. The other two sit around in the garage. Take one off my hands.”
Their uncle Quin had passed away almost two years ago now. An event that revealed all the family secrets that their mother, Honor, had kept from Livia and her brother Lucas for over a decade. That’s how she ended up here in Caesarea, a podunk Montana town inhabited by the remnants of an ancient Roman lineage that history books had erased.
“I like my car,” Livia said.
“It broke down on you last month,” Hyrum said.
“But I fixed it. It’s fine,” Livia insisted. She’d bought the car used but she’d taken good care of it.
Hyrum frowned. “I don’t think it’s reliable anymore and four hours is a long drive. She’s done good by you, Liv. You made a smart choice, but it’s time to graduate to a new car.”
Livia shook her head. She didn’t want to part with her car. She had paid money to fix it last month. It would be fine. She didn’t want to change anything else right now. She was going to drive out of Caesarea tomorrow morning, headed to her first semester at Cornelia Africana college. She was going to go in a familiar car. She didn’t have any family where she was going or friends. She needed her car.
“Stop being stubborn,” Hyrum growled. “I’m giving you a new car. Take it.”
“No!” Livia refused, feet planted, fists clenched.
Hyrum threw up his hands. “You have till morning to change your mind.”
He turned and walked back into the townhouse he’d inherited from their Uncle when he died. Quin had been Paterfamilias of Taurus house--the house that Livia had been born into, but she hadn’t known that until over a year ago. That was part of why she’d come to Caesarea in the first place, to understand where she came from and why she was so different. Livia hadn’t expected when she’d moved here a year ago to be so relieved to leave. She sighed and turned to look out at the flat empty fields before her. It was possible she’d never come back.
Cornelia Africana college was set out like an old Roman Forum. At the very head stood a temple-like structure that housed the student center. Livia Fabius charged up the steps, wanting to beat the lunchline so she could get to her 1:00 class on time. She looked up and stopped before she reached the top of the staircase.
Corvin Tullius stood to the right of the entrance, dressed casually, instead of in his Legionnaire uniform. His long legs clad in dark-wash jeans that hugged his narrow hips in a way that made Livia’s gut lurch. He wore a yellow polo that contrasted against his dark brown hair and made his hazel eyes look greener. She hated seeing him when she wasn’t prepared. It made those irrational feelings she had for him flare up again. Livia had told herself over a million times and in a million ways that she needed to be over him. Yesterday.
Livia took a breath, bracing herself for when he’d turn and see her. Why was he here? She hadn’t caused any trouble. She’d lived outside Caesarea for ages before she’d discovered her House and their accompanying powers. She didn’t need a minder. She was angry at the lack of trust but infuriated by the lack of privacy. She should have at least been informed that a TARP officer needed to check up on her.
Corvin turned. Upon seeing her, his eyebrows rose. His eyes shifted, taking her in head to toe. Then he tilted his head in the way he did, puzzled. “You look upset, Livia.”
She rolled her eyes. That would be the first thing out of his mouth. He was so condescending. Did he really expect her to believe that he actually cared about her feelings? “Look, I can take care of myself!”
His chin drew back. “Did I imply you couldn’t somehow?”
Livia glared at him. Now, he was acting all offended. As if she didn’t have any right to be upset! She’d been glad to leave the backstabbing, gossiping, judgemental Caesareans behind her. Now, they’d followed her here. Livia stomped the rest of the way up the stairs. She stopped right in front of Corvin, ignoring that he stood much taller than her, and snarled directly into his face. “I don’t need you to be here. Tell Justin or whoever sent you to leave me alone!”
Corvin’s affront melted into amusement. “Oh, you think I’m here on assignment.”
“Why else would you be here?” Livia demanded. She pushed past him, slamming the door open so hard it smashed against the wall. Whoops. Livia grabbed it and pulled it away--now there was a significant dent. She needed to calm down. She looked back at Corvin.
He was giving her a try-being-more-discrete look.
She clenched her fists and bit out her words between clenched teeth. “Go home. I don’t need you to watch me.”
“I’m here as a student,” Corvin said, putting a hand on his hip.
Why couldn’t he act even a little bit intimidated by her? She was Taurus after all and stronger than him because of it. Instead, he looked at her with that infuriatingly calm look that he always wore. Professional. Robotic. Cold. That was Corvin to the core.
“Lies!” Livia cried. “You already have a degree--”
He cut her off, a touch of anger in his voice.“I’m getting a Master of Science in Organizational and Leadership coaching,” he said.
Livia’s body responded immediately to the hint of anger in his tone. Heat rushed along her arms and her heart raced. Her shoulders pulled up toward her ears. She ignored her anxiety and demanded, “Why?”
“So, I can transfer into training,” Corvin explained. His voice had returned to passivity.
Livia hesitated. An emotion had flashed across his face so briefly she didn’t know what to name it. He spoke in an unemotional manner but three months ago, he’d been called to a domestic dispute. His squad hadn’t been able to prevent an enraged Aquila man from killing his three-year-old daughter and then killing himself. She heard from Alia, Corvin’s little sister, that Corvin blamed himself. It’d been a hard case for the entire community, but the man had been drunk and so it had brought back particularly bad memories for Livia’s entire family.
It had triggered weeks of nightmares for Livia that had only just started to go away. She inhaled a deep breath. She didn’t want Corvin here. For some reason, his presence always dredged up some baggage or another.
Livia debated on whether or not she should believe him. He had a legitimate motivation to seek another position in his department. However, he was a Caesarean security patrol agent after all, in a specialized unit. This wouldn’t be the first time she’d interacted with him while he was on special assignment.
That was how Livia found out she was Taurus house in the first place and that her mother had been lying to her about it since she was six-years-old. Livia’s relationship with her mother hadn’t survived the revelation and they were currently estranged. But her relationship with her oldest brother Hyrum had made up for that. He’d taken her in--at least most of the time--and made sure she’d been supported and helped her apply to college.
Livia needed details to verify Corvin’s story. “So, what classes do you have today?”
“At three, I have an Executing Strategic Change course,” he said.
“Where?” Livia demanded.
“In the Scipio building--” he looked amused again.
That checked out. “Room number?”
“Are you quizzing me?” Corvin asked in disbelief.
“Are you deceiving me?” Livia countered. She knew the building only had five levels. She’d gotten lost there when she’d tried to find her healthcare policy class.
“315,” he said. “Professor Hodgson.”
Livia huffed, annoyed she couldn’t call him out.
Corvin grinned at her. “It ends at five. Want to meet me there? I’ll pay for dinner.”
“No,” Livia turned on her heel and marched toward the cafeteria.
By the end of lunch, Livia learned you had to pay 25 cents extra for ranch sauce--lame--and that a Professor Alan Hodgson was indeed employed at Cornelia Africana College.