Father Francis glanced at the leather-bound pages and sighed. “Very wel .” He adjusted his round spectacles, and glanced above him. “Then you must leave, and never bring that thing to the house of the Lord again.”
Jared nodded. “You have my word.”
The priest brought in an extra chair, and he and Jared opened the book. Immediately the room turned cold, and I wrapped my arms around my middle. The others knew we were here, and that we had the book. The element of surprise long gone, Jared didn’t hesitate discussing different passages. When Father Francis would get an idea, the pages would be flipped to one prophecy, prompting Jared to think about something else.
The pages would flip the other way. They argued and agreed; each idea led them only to more frustration.
Minutes turned to hours; stil they went over each point of the prophecy until it sounded more like chanting than discussion. A strange glow lit up the edges of the windows, and I realized it was the morning sun. We’d spent all night in Woonsocket, and my eyes didn’t even feel heavy.
For the first time, Jared looked up from the book to see me fidgeting in my chair. “Hungry?” He said it as if he’d just remembered I was there.
“Getting there,” I said, resting my chin on my fist.
He threw the book across the room. It hit the wal with great force and hit the ground with a thud. Despite its age, not a page loosened.
I stood and walked to the smal kitchen, found a glass and turned on the tap. My body was just starting to feel the beginnings of fatigue, and the tension in the room made me emotional y tired as wel . A copy of the King James Bible sat on the counter. The spine was worn to nearly nothing, and the pages hung at an angle; the book so spent it could no longer hold itself square. I flipped open the cover, and then pushed several pages with my fingertips.
“We should get you something to eat,” Jared said.
I turned to the priest. “What does your Bible say about this?”
Father Francis thought for a moment. “Wel , it does have its own version of the end days. It talks about the woman with child.”
“I’ve mentioned to Jared that we’re looking in the wrong place. If you can’t find the answers in the Bible of Hel , shouldn’t you look in Heaven’s?”
The priest shrugged. “I suppose so.” He walked over to the counter and picked up the book. “It’s worth a try. A third of the Bible is prophecy.”
I offered Jared my glass, and he took a sip. When he handed it back to me, he kissed my cheek. The two men returned to their chairs, this time opening Heaven’s Bible.
Father Francis flipped the pages. “Let’s start with anything that discusses women with child in the end days.”
Jared nodded, and waited for the priest to find the first passage. They discussed trumpets, and something about seals—I imagined angels opening wax-sealed envelopes the way celebrities do at award shows—and a dragon and a woman with child. I tried to tune that part out, because the sound of it terrified me. But I didn’t have the luxury of putting frightening prophecy to the back of my mind. Because of what I had seen the last two years, I knew prophecies were very real possibilities. My only defense against the instinct to run screaming was simply not to hear. The priest discussed literal and symbolic interpretations, among other things that made my head spin. I wasn’t sure if it was exhaustion, the fact that I was purposely trying not to pay attention, or that their discussion real y was simply over my head. At any rate, I was pregnant, tired, and irritable.
“It would be nice if you two wouldn’t talk about me like I’m not here,” I grumbled.
Jared’s eyes turned soft, and he reached for me. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. We’re trying to hurry, but we need to be thorough. This is our last chance.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Kim needs to return the book to Jerusalem. I’ve made her wait long enough.”
I nodded. Traveling to Jerusalem had crossed my mind many times. Shax and the rest of his minions would not make it easy for us to return his book to the one place he can’t go. The Sepulchre was above the tomb of Jesus; the creatures of Hel were forbidden. Even infinite, divine patience refused to tolerate desecration of the Sepulchre. The war could start the moment the plane lands, or they could try to keep us from even getting on the plane. We had no idea what would happen. That was the worst part.
Father Francis looked up from the pages. His eyes were unfocused as he slipped deeper into thought. “There is an ancient Jewish apocryphal text cal ed the Fourth Esdras. The archangel Uriel describes many things about the end of days.”
Jared frowned. “I know what you’re about to say, and I know Uriel. Gabriel is the loudest adversary of Hybrids. Uriel is the second.”
“Nevertheless, his prophecy has some merit. He says—”
Jared cut him off. “Father….”
My curiosity and sense of self-preservation outweighed everything else. “Tel me, Father. I want to know.”
Jared sighed, and the priest continued, “He specifical y mentions pregnant women in the Fourth Esdras. He says ‘Pregnant women wil give birth to monsters.’”
Jared rol ed his eyes. “Uriel thinks I’m a monster.”
I hesitated. “What…what kind of monsters?”
The priest glanced at Jared, and then back at me. “He makes many prophecies similar to Revelations. He refers to this as ‘The Beginning of Sorrows’. Jesus also states, ‘Woe to those who are pregnant or nursing babies in those days.’”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Jared said.
“You need to listen,” I said. “Maybe you’re unable to figure this out because you refuse to hear the truth. Maybe this is out of our hands.”
Jared’s brows pul ed in. “Those prophecies state an abundance of Hybrid births. If something like that were happening, we would hear about it.
Besides, Bean isn’t a Hybrid.”
Father Francis pushed up his glasses, clearly intrigued. “You know this for a fact?”
“Yes. The only child capable of this kind of reaction from Hel , a child capable of disturbing the Balance, wil be more than a Hybrid.”
“Your child isn’t human?”
I wrapped my arms around my stomach, cradling Bean protectively. “You make the baby sound like an abomination.”
“Isn’t it?” Father Francis said.
Jared stood. “No. It’s a child. Our child.” He took my hand and I stood with him.
“Forgive me,” Father Francis said. He stood before us. “I didn’t mean to offend you. We are in strange times—frightening times. I let panic get in the way of my thoughts. I just don’t see how it’s possible.”
“Nina is a descendant of the Nephilim,” Jared said, matter-of-factly.
The priest was confused. “But, this is what you are. Nephilim are children of angels, born of human women.”
Jared shook his head. “I am the son of an Arch. The Nephilim bred the likes of Goliath. Giants not meant to blend in. These angels roamed the earth. They had…rebel ed.”
The priest’s eyes grew wide, and I felt mine mirror his. I gripped Jared’s shirt. “What are you saying? That I’m a descendant of demons?”
“That’s not what I said. We’re talking thousands of years ago, Nina. Many things were different back then.”
“Rebel ious angels were cast out, Jared.”
Jared cupped my arms. “My mother is a descendant of Celts. They were savages, Nina. They drank the blood of their dead. I don’t personalize it.
That’s not what I am.”
“Then why did you leave that part out?” I covered my face with my hands, ashamed to even look at Jared. He was half angel, and I was carrying around the genes of Hel . No wonder our child was so rare. “Did you know that before?” I asked, my eyes fil ing with tears.
My cheeks felt as if they had caught fire. I was hesitant to ask the question that had come to my mind, but I would anyway. I always did, no matter how horrible I thought the answer would be. “Does it change the way you feel about me?”
Jared took my jaws gently into his hands, and he looked straight into my eyes. “Nina, of course not. How could you even think that?”
“Because I don’t know how I feel about me, now.”
Jared put his lips on mine, and then he pul ed me to him. It was my father’s last secret, the last thing Jared had tried to keep from hurting me. But, now that it was in the open, everything made perfect sense. I could never quite fit the pieces together until now.
Stil , I felt…the only way to describe it was that I felt dirty. After all of that, we were no closer to an answer than when we’d arrived. “Is that what Uriel meant when he said ‘monsters’? What wil the baby be?”
“Our baby. Bean wil be our baby, nothing more. You know what you need?” he said with a smal smile.
“What’s that?” I said, wiping the delicate skin under my eyes.
“The comfort of experience.” Jared tugged on my hand. “Let’s invite Lil ian to dinner.”
Father Francis held out his hand. “We’re not finished, are we?”
Jared frowned. “The answers aren’t in those books. I don’t know what else to do.”
“The answer is always in this book,” Father Francis said, holding his Bible in his hands. He held it to his chest. “We’ve just missed something.”
“We haven’t missed anything. I had hoped He would lead you to the answer, Father, but He hasn’t so much as whispered in your ear.”
Jared’s words sent my mind spinning. Had we missed something? Had the answer been in front of us all along? I clicked through each idea and passage of scripture I’d heard them discuss like channels in my mind. I kept coming back to Shax’s book, and returning it to Jerusalem.
“Maybe it’s not in my ear he’s whispering?” The priest said.
Jared waved him away. “Nina’s exhausted and hungry. It’s clouding my thoughts. all I can think about is that damn book and returning it so Shax can’t get to it and we can concentrate on keeping Nina safe.”
“Wait, what?” I said, stunned.
“I have the Jerusalem trip on my mind. I can’t focus on anything else. It’s maddening.”
“He’s whispering,” I said.
Jared raised an eyebrow. “What?”
Father Francis nodded, and hobbled to where we stood. “She’s right.”
I gripped Jared’s shirt. “The Sepulchre. The only place they aren’t all owed to desecrate. The one place the book is safe from Hel ’s hands.”
Jared’s eyes lit up like twin fires. “We can keep you safe there.”
Bex finished the last place setting, and then returned to the kitchen. Lil ian sat happily at one end of my mother’s long, imported table, Cynthia not so happily at the other. I waited anxiously with them, shifting uncomfortably in my seat. Almost to a beat, Cynthia would shoot me glances of disapproval. She hated it when I fidgeted, but now that I was married, she felt it impolite to mother me. Bex and Jared worked furiously in the kitchen, their laughter and conversation filtering to the formal dining room along with the delicious smel s of savory herbs.
Bex appeared again with a basket of hot dinner rol s and a butter dish. His eyes darted to the empty doorway, and then back to the table. “It’s about time.”
The front door opened, and then I heard Claire grumbling under her breath. She and Ryan made their way to the table like summer and winter— Ryan was all smiles, and Claire sported her usual scowl.
Bex brought in a pot of steamed vegetables in one hand, and a bowl of rice in the other. Ryan pul ed out Claire’s chair and then clapped his hands, rubbing them together.
“I can help,” he said.
Bex nodded once toward the kitchen. “Just pick something and bring it out to the table.” He pul ed off his apron and took a seat next to his mother.
“I think you should leave it on,” Claire said. “Pink pinstripes look good on you.”
Bex stuck his tongue out at his sister and then placed his napkin in his lap. Lil ian shot a look at Claire and then smiled at Bex. “It looks wonderful, as always, son.”
Ryan returned with a casserole dish of scal oped potatoes, and Jared brought in a huge ham. They were laughing about something, and I couldn’t help but attempt to sneak a peek at Claire’s reaction. She all owed a half smile, but it quickly vanished when Ryan took a seat next to her.
Jared sat next to me, and we began passing around the different dishes, fil ing our plates. As stressful and dark as the situation seemed, the banter was jovial, and Jared’s mood was nearly cheerful. The weight of an answer had final y been lifted, and he felt hopeful again.
Cynthia barely finished her meal when she looked at her watch. “Jared. Bex. Thank you so much for dinner. I do apologize. I have an engagement.”
Jared nodded. “Of course, Cynthia. Thank you for joining us.”
She paused behind my chair and cupped my shoulders, kissing my cheek. “It was good to see you, Nina dear.”
I nodded, and her heels clicked to the front door.
Ryan’s brows jumped. “She’s not one for family functions, huh?”
“Not real y, no,” I said.
“Cynthia shows her humanity by way of charities. She’s very busy, but she’s helped so many people.” Lil ian said.
“That she has,” I said. “Is there pie?”
Jared laughed, and Bex popped up. “No, but there is cake.”
“Angel food?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said, leaving for the kitchen.
Ryan pul ed his fork from his mouth, clearly ready for dessert. “So what’s the real occasion?”