Authors: Kaitlyn Davis
Tags: #Vampires, #love, #paranormal romance, #Fantasy, #Magic, #Young Adult, #heroine
The other six Councilmen were stoic in their
formal suits, staring beyond Kira, back toward the top of the hill
where their guests would be arriving shortly.
"Have they mentioned anything?" Kira
whispered to Luke, who still hadn't released her hand. But she
"No," he replied under his breath. "Can't you
feel how anxious everyone is? I think they're too nervous to break
"I know this meeting is a big deal, but I
don't get what the Council is so afraid of…" Kira looked behind her
again, taking note of the stress lines on the Councilmen's faces.
Their eyes were narrowed and their hands were white with the force
of the grips on their chairs.
"Peace with the Punishers is fragile as is,
and they want to keep you safe, but not if it costs us our truce.
We need to be able to work together."
"So you're saying they're nervous for me?"
Kira glanced incredulously at Luke. It was hard to believe this
judging crowd was actually rooting for her. He squeezed her hand,
but continued looking at the top of the hill, waiting for the
"Some people might not agree with your
relationship with Tristan, but in the end you proved the Protectors
right—you proved that vampires can be saved—and that is something
to root for."
"I guess, but—"
"Shh," Like shushed her and gripped her hand
Kira followed his gaze to the black car
pulling to a stop at the top of the hill. The whole town of
Sonnyville seemed to hold its breath, pausing together until, in
one large exhale, the door opened and a red head slipped out. Six
more men in well-tailored suits followed the first older man out of
the car and they waited, talking quietly to one another until a
second car pulled up.
Now it was Kira's turn to be shocked because
she recognized the next face to greet the crowd—her adoptive
mother. Tugging nervously on the bottom of her dress, her aunt
surveyed the vast lawn, searching for Kira.
"Mom?" Kira said aloud, recovering only when
Luke shushed her again. Kira glared at him. "But—"
Luke interrupted by nodding toward the car
where another Punisher was emerging. Kira recognized him too—the
man from Aldrich's dungeon, the one who had first told Kira she was
falling—falling into evil.
"What are they doing here? I thought it was
just the Council!" Kira hissed into Luke's ear. Her heart started
beating at an even faster pace. The Punisher Council was one thing.
But the mother she had lied to and hung up on the day before, and
the man who had accused her of turning into a vampire? Kira was not
prepared to face that tribunal. "My mother? I mean, that is
"Kira, relax." Luke rolled his eyes. "If
anything, you should be happy your mom is here. She'll do whatever
it takes to protect you."
Kira raised her eyebrows at him. "Hey, you
weren't on the phone yesterday when she was ready to punish me for
all eternity. Hell hath no fury and all that jazz."
"Enough." The deep rumble of her
grandfather's voice silenced Kira and she turned quietly back
toward the Punishers, now a wave of flaming red hair making its way
through a golden sea.
Stay cool, Kira chided herself as nerves
shivered down her limbs. More than anything, Kira was anxious about
her own response. When she felt cornered, she had the tendency to
act out and that was the last thing she needed—to give them another
reason to think she was out of control.
So as the Punisher Council walked slowly up
the steps, making their way to the seven extra chairs set up
opposite from the Protectors, Kira took a deep breath and forced
herself to relax.
Of course, her semblance of calm went pretty
much out the window when her mother broached the top of the
platform. They finally made eye contact and Kira knew the meaning
of that singular raised eyebrow and titled head—it meant lecture
time was near. No, it meant: I am so happy you are safe, but now I
am going to make you wish you had died doing whatever stupid thing
you were doing.
Kira attempted a weak smile in her mom's
The glare only deepened.
Fantastic, she thought and gripped Luke's
hand hard enough to make him wince, I'm a dead girl.
"Welcome," her grandfather spoke, directing
the greeting to the Punishers but projecting his voice enough to
include the entire crowd below. "Today marks a momentous occasion
in our two histories. Not only have the Councils come together in
full to discuss the future of our great species, but we have in our
midst a girl who has forever changed what it means to be a conduit.
My granddaughter, Kira, signifies the best of what we all do. She
has punished a great many evils, but protected the thing we all
wish to save: humanity. And that is what we are here to discuss: a
newly resurrected human life, a vampire who was good enough to be
saved—a Mr. Tristan Kent."
Kira breathed a sigh of relief at her
grandfather's introduction, noticing a few heads in the crowd nod
in agreement. But not everyone was satisfied with his words, Kira
thought as she looked around at frowning Punishers and Protectors
"That is all well and good, Councilman
Peters, but we have other things to discuss," the Punisher opposite
her grandfather spoke. He too sat in the middle of the row and Kira
could tell he was the leader. His red hair was untainted by white
or grey strands, but the wrinkles around the corner of his eyes and
the slight droop to his skin gave away his age. His features were
hard—sharp cheekbones, an angled nose, a sliver of pink lips—and he
moved his razor like eyes in Kira's direction. Already, she could
see the difference in the two cultures.
Protectors were strong, but there was room
for lightness and love. Punishers were just tough. Like her mother
had said months before when Kira first learned of her powers, they
honored mercilessness with vampires and weeded out the weak—a major
reason her mother had left the culture so long before.
"Whether this vampire lives or dies is of
little consequence to us. What we came here to discuss is the fate
of this mixed-breed—her life is a danger you have never truly come
to understand. When we found her as a child, the deal was struck to
let her live so long as her powers never came to fruition. But when
they manifested only a few short months ago, we were never
informed, and already her soul has twisted just as we had
"Whoa," Kira interjected, shirking Luke's
hold and stepping into the middle of the circle. So much for poised
aloofness. "I may be a mixed-breed conduit, but that doesn't mean
I'm deaf and can't hear exactly what you're saying about me. My
soul isn't 'twisted'" Kira said, unable to resist the urge to use
air quotes around the word. "It's perfectly straight, like
yard-stick straight. You could measure other souls against it."
Even though she couldn't see it, Kira felt
Luke roll his eyes behind her and a sense of amusement funneled
into her mind through their connection.
"Miss Dawson, with all due respect, you are
the least qualified person to make that assessment. Which is why,
according to tradition, we brought your only living Punisher
relative here to speak on your behalf. I present Ellen Dawson,
sister to your father Andrew Dawson." He signaled her mother, who
stepped forward with a curtsy to show her respect.
"We have also brought one more with us as you
have all noticed. May I present Mr. Noah Thomas, the Punisher who
witnessed this half-breed's questionable behavior and first alerted
us of her possible threat."
The man, who Kira noticed already looked well
recovered from his ordeal in Aldrich's castle, stepped forward and
nodded to the crowd. For a moment, he caught Kira's stare and his
eyes trembled, almost as if it pained him to be there. But his gaze
shifted away, downcast at the wooden planks below their feet.
Her grandfather leaned forward in his seat,
looking strong despite the frailty of his age. "And what is it
exactly that you are accusing her of? Other than saving Sonnyville
from a crippling attack only a few weeks ago," he looked at the
crowd, forcing them all to remember how Kira had destroyed the
vampires who had swarmed this town and broken through their
defenses, "other than freeing conduits from the imprisonment of a
deranged vampire," he looked pointedly at the red headed man who
was still looking at the floor, unable to meet her grandfather's
steely gaze, "other than bringing a human soul back to life?"
Kira planted her feet on the ground,
resisting the urge to run up and land a kiss on his cheek.
Protectors one, she thought, Punishers zero.
"All the proof we need is written in her
eyes," the Punisher said, pointing at Kira as though she were some
monster. A thousand gazes landed on her and, hard as it was, Kira
refused to back down. She looked around the crowd and met the stare
of every single person on that platform. There was one thing she
could promise them, she would never stop fighting.
"And before you interject, let's discuss her
other actions as well," the Punisher continued, cutting off her
grandfather. "Did she not partake in a willing relationship with a
vampire? Did she not stay as a guest at a vampire's estate? Did she
not freely offer her blood to these creatures?"
The entire crowd gasped at the same time.
She might have failed to mention that little
blood sharing part before. But it wasn't like he made it sound.
Tristan had needed entry into the Red Rose Ball. Kira had traded
blood for information from Pavia. And, she had basically been
undercover at Aldrich's castle.
Turning toward Luke, Kira searched for some
words to defend herself without sounding guilty. But as soon as she
looked into his face, Kira closed her mouth. Through the bond, she
felt his fear—a deep burn singing his heart. The tide was turning
against her, she could feel the shift as golden heads bobbed in
agreement with the Punisher's words.
"Did she not bring a human back to life?" Her
grandfather stood, purposely leaving his cane on the ground—only
the strength in his conviction kept him standing. "What sort of
vampire supporter would risk her own life to do that?"
"And I will speak to Tristan since my
daughter cannot," her mother stepped forward, looking beyond the
Punishers to the demanding crowd below. "He is a kind hearted and
gentle soul—I allowed him to date my daughter and to play with her
younger sister. I allowed him in my home and into our lives. His
humanity was so intact that I at first didn't even recognize that
he was a vampire."
She turned a slightly softer gaze toward
Kira, who guessed that her mother had never suspected Tristan was a
vampire until the Punishers came knocking on the door demanding an
"My daughter," she continued, the pause
unnoticed by anyone except Kira, "fell in love with the human
trapped inside of a vampire's body, and all she did was what we
have all wanted to do—she killed the vampire and brought the human
back to life."
When her mother stepped to the side, out of
the center of the wooden platform, a stalemate began. The
Protectors on one side, the Punishers on the other—both strong in
their beliefs, but unsure of where to take the argument next.
Everywhere Kira looked, blond heads were
turning to the side, leaning toward one another. A buzz grew louder
as the whispers spread around the circle—a cacophony of opinions.
But Kira couldn't tell if the rising murmurs were for or against
Luke squeezed her hand, sending warm thoughts
into her head, trying to drown out the worry. Kira held on, opening
the wall she normally kept sealed tight. Like water through a
crack, his optimism pushed through, shooting down her veins,
lifting her spirits like hot chocolate on a wintry day.
Kira leaned into his body and Luke brought
his arm around her shoulder, welcoming her head on his chest.
Without misstep, their heartbeats molded into one. Their inhales
and exhales rolled together like a quickly churning tide while they
anxiously waited for someone to speak.
"If I may," the Punisher from Aldrich's
dungeon stepped forward. Noah, Kira thought, remembering his name.
She tensed, uneasy about what would come next, and Luke's grip on
her arm tightened. The rest of the townspeople shifted slightly,
moving as one to focus on this man as he walked slowly to the
center of the platform.
Kira shifted her weight. Something in the
back of her mind told her that his words would change
everything—would decide her fate.
He stopped, looking toward her grandfather
and then back toward the Punisher leading his Council.
"I was with Kira in that dungeon. I was down
there for a long time before she came, just praying for a
miracle—just praying someone would come save me." He focused his
attention on Kira—the green in his eyes was forced back by the wave
of yellow-orange flames fanning out from his pupils.
"At first, I admit, I thought she was a
vampire come to torture me. I met her blues eyes with defiance. But
then, she lit a fire so hot it burned the pain from my limbs,
seared closed my cuts and somehow healed me. And not only me, but
every other conduit trapped down there. I believed she was our
savior, and I owe her my life." He nodded, silently thanking Kira
in a way he never had before. She accepted it cautiously, just
waiting for the huge 'but' in his story.
He turned away from the Protectors, finally
meeting the gazes of the red-haired Council he had walked in
"But," he said. Here we go, thought Kira—it
was almost painful for her to hold an eye roll back. What was it
going to be? How she gave blood to Pavia? How she begged for
memories of her mother?