After Ki’ara satisfies the Council she is not their hunter, Vincent escorts her to the MacAaron suite in Haven, where Joshua and Catherine are preparing to thank her for saving the lives of Catherine and her twins.
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Someone knocked tentatively on the library door. Vincent admitted a young blond man with pale blue eyes and an inquisitive look on his face. He made some silent gestures which Vincent replied to in kind. “This is Alex,” he said, turning to her. “He is Joshua’s servant. You are invited to take a meal with the MacAarons.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Alex,” she said with a smile. “Tell your master I’ll be delighted.”
Alex smiled sheepishly, made another series of gestures, and dashed away. “It appears you’ve charmed yet another of our members,” Vincent said with a light laugh. “If we are done, I will escort you to the MacAaron apartment.”
“We are done,” Antonia said with formality, officially closing the Council’s meeting.
“Thank you all,” she said, rising to her feet. She took the arm Vincent proffered in her direction, and he led her from the library with a kind smile. She walked beside him in silence, but when he moved to open the MacAarons’ door, she put her hand on his and met his gaze. “You are under a great deal of stress,” she said softly. “I can feel your pain. You bear a private burden that is of paramount importance to the Community, but it’s taxing you dangerously. The pain you bear is both fresh and old, but I can also sense your desperation to keep your feelings closed. They’ll tear you apart if you don’t let them out.”
He lowered his gaze, his face inscrutable. “You are exceptionally perceptive. Even my closest friends don’t suspect…” His voice broke, and he closed his eyes for a moment. She sensed a major struggle going on inside him. More softly, he said, “Our losses have cut me deeply. I strive now to prevent another.” He raised his gaze to hers, and she saw the edge of his control burning in his eyes. “I appreciate your concern, but I ask, I beg you, leave this alone. My sacrifice to the Community will become known in its own time. My friends…they have their own pain and duties to worry about. I’ll not have my personal trial added to their concerns.”
She studied him solemnly for several moments. “Very well, I won’t pry. I only mentioned it because I can sense how close you are to failure.” She put a companionable hand on his shoulder and offered a soft smile. “Confide in your brother, Vincent, if with no one else. I feel the familial bond you share, perhaps he can at least lend moral support. No one should bear trials this severe alone.”
He smiled then, a soft, hesitant gesture which helped calm the turmoil in his eyes. “Only he and Jason know my deepest pain, but Jason fights his own battle, and it’s for his cause I now suffer. Rest assured, if I feel the end of my strength draw near, I shall seek aid. For now, it’s best for all concerned that I keep my knowledge private.”
She felt deeply impressed with his fortitude. “I admire you. You are a brave and loyal man. I’ll respect your need for privacy.”
His smile brightened slightly in appreciation. “They’re waiting,” he said as he opened the suite door for her to enter, then turned away silently and retreated down the hall. She shook her head sadly and turned to meet the MacAarons.