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“What?” I said. “Jump from the plane? Are you crazy?” I could see real fear in his eyes, and for the first time, I knew Jared had made a decision out of desperation.

Claire burst out of the cockpit and looked Jared, shaking her head.

Jared gripped my hand and pul ed me to my feet. Before I could speak, we were at the emergency exit. Jared grabbed the lever with both hands, but I stopped him.

“We need to do this now!” he yel ed.

I shook my head. “I can’t.”

“You can!”

I looked around me to the frightened faces of Bex, Kim, and Ryan, and then Claire.

“Why are you just sitting there?” she cried, “Help us, dammit!”

Jared’s arms tensed against my strength, but I refused to let him pul the handle.

I closed my eyes, trying to block out the noise. “Help us,” I whispered. “We need your help.”

Chapter Seventeen


The plane trembled like an earthquake. The engines whined, and the emergency oxygen masks leaned forward as the plane plummeted toward black water.

Claire shrieked. I was afraid to opened my eyes, hesitant to see what unimaginable horror had caused her to scream. I popped one eye open, and then the other. Even in the dim red light, I could easily make out Claire’s tiny arms wrapped around a large, dark figure. The lights returned to normal, and the shaking immediately stopped. The plane leveled out as the high-pitched cry of the engines quieted to a smooth, low hum.

Jared stopped trying to open the door, and he stood, moving slightly when every muscle in his body relaxed at once.

Bex hopped to his feet. “It’s about freakin’ time!” he said, slapping the top of the seat in front of him. After col ecting himself, he turned to Kim.

“You okay?”

Kim’s expression remained blank. “Why?”

She winked at me, and an uncontrol able grin stretched across my face. I was beginning to see traces of my friend again.

Samuel stood at the front of the aisle, a large, white smile a contrast against his black face. “I apologize. The best way to describe it is that I had to wade through some red tape.”

Claire released Samuel and playful y punched his arm.

Jared raced up the aisle and then paused. Samuel opened his arms wide, and Jared fel into his chest, hugging him as wel . Samuel laughed, his voice bel owing, fil ing every space in the cabin. I didn’t realize that I was stil tense until Ryan spoke into my ear, causing me to jump.

“He wasn’t on the plane before, was he?”

I shook my head, smiling. “Nope.”

A loud popping noise echoed when Samuel patted Jared on his back. “I can only go as far as the outskirts of Jerusalem, but I’m going to join you, if you don’t mind.”

Jared laughed once. “Not at all .” I joined him at the front of the aisle, wrapping my arms tightly around him. I sighed. “I admit it. I was scared to death.”

Jared shook his head. “I was ready to jump from a crashing airplane with my pregnant wife. I think I win this one.”

I agreed without pause. “Touché.”

Samuel walked back and forth along the aisle for a while. We all watched him quietly, but the fear and apprehension was gone. When Samuel would pass our seats, Jared would squeeze my hand. I kept trying to use my new and crude sensitivities to recognize a dark presence, but I either wasn’t doing it right, or Samuel had given them a severe enough warning.

Before long, Jared’s breathing evened out, and then his fingers relaxed around mine.

I fel asleep soon after. A tiny baby boy in my arms, swaddled the softest blue cotton, smiling and content in the shade under our oak tree, saturated my dreams. He smiled, his bright blue-gray eyes glimmering in the summer sun. His pinky finger was no longer than my pinky nail, and I kept kissing his hands over and over, unable to feel his skin against my lips enough times.

Time passed quickly there. Before the end of the day, he was a toddler, and then grade-school age. He didn’t appear older than he was, like Bex always had. He was perfectly human, and yet flawlessly beautiful like his father. By the time the shadow under the oak had faded, my son was a man, as tal and distinguished as Jared. I watched all of this in awe, but a little sad at the same time. It had gone by too fast. I wanted more time with him. I wanted to start over. A strange mixture of pride and sadness surged through me, and I remembered how just a few hours ago I was pregnant with him.

The shade now a shadow, my son walked over to me and held out his hand. He looked so much like his father. “It’s time,” he said with a smal smile. My smile.

“Time for what?”

“The end.”

My eyes popped open. Jared had left his seat, and I could hear him conversing with Bex and Kim somewhere in the back of the plane. I rubbed my eyes, and turned to my right. Samuel sat across from me, his massive frame nearly too large for the seat.

“Did you sleep wel ?” he asked.

“I did, actual y.”

He smiled. “I know. I was just being polite.”

“Oh. Right.” I maneuvered my body out of my seat, stretching.

Jared’s eyes met mine, and he stood, moving to the side.

“Again?” Bex teased.

“Yes, Bex. I’m pregnant. When you have a ful -grown infant doing a handstand on your bladder, I’ll keep track of how many bathroom breaks you take, mmk?” I waddled down the aisle, passing Ryan and Claire, who didn’t seem to notice my presence. I noticed that Ryan’s pinky was overlapping Claire’s however, and she wasn’t beating him to a bloody pulp for it. I smiled, and made my way to the lavatory.

I opened the door and frowned. I felt like Winnie the Pooh trying to squeeze into the honey tree. I looked down the aisle, meeting the inquisitive eyes of my husband. “I always feel I’m going to get stuck in there.”

Jared laughed. “If you do, I’ll get you out.”

Bex held up a white bottle. “I have lotion. That should help.”

I rol ed my eyes and made my first attempt to navigate the smal space.

Without event—or lotion—I returned to my seat, but not without the irritating snickering of Kim and Bex.

“Shut it,” I grumbled, glaringly aware that my penguin walk only made their laughter more boisterous.

. I turned my attention back to Jared. “I don’t suppose you’ve thought about the little things.”

“Such as?”

“Bathrooms? Sleeping arrangements? Privacy?”

“Al luxuries that won’t be readily accessible.”

“Pardon?” I said, my eyebrows shooting up two inches. “I’m heavily pregnant, and there’s no bathroom?”

Jared shifted nervously. “Yes.”

I sighed with relief, and looked to the ceiling. “Oh, thank God.”

“But...not like the facilities you’re used to.”

I peered over at him.

He shifted again. “It’s more like a...a...hole. In the ground. But there is running water below so it’s not as bad as it sounds.”

My face screwed into disgust. “You expect me to balance this,” I said, pointing to my bel y, “over a hole?”

“You have Claire and Kim to help.”

I crossed my arms and faced the wal . “Not funny.”

“It can’t be helped.”

I relaxed, and covered my face. “I’m so sorry. I sound like a brat. It’s just…” Tears burned my eyes. “It’s not the way you imagine your pregnancy, you know. Not that I ever real y imagined it, but living the last few weeks of my pregnancy in a moist, dark hole, with medieval accommodations and the birth,” I said with a faltering breath. “I’m scared to death. It’s going to be painful, and I trust you, but...not being in a hospital, or even have a midwife there. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it.”

Jared wrapped his arms around me tight. “It is. But, Claire and I have researched it to death, talked to every medical professional we know, and brought every supply We’ll need.”

“I’m stil scared,” I said. A tear fel down my cheek.

Jared rested his cheek on my hair, and his fingers pressed into my skin. “I’m going to love you through it.”

I nodded, and pressed my face into his chest.

Claire tapped Jared on the shoulder. “We need to ready the weapons and check the supplies.”

Jared nodded and released me. Everyone looked to him, and he gestured to everyone. “We have a lot of gear to hike through the city. The most important packages are weapons, med supplies, and rations. These wil be carried by myself, Claire and Bex. Ryan, you’l be extra eyes on the book, but stay close to Claire.”

Ryan nodded.

Jared continued, “Kim, stay close to Bex. If any one gets separated, hold your position and We’ll double back. Under no circumstances is anyone to go off alone. I don’t care if you’re in a panic, or you see a better way to go. Fracturing the group puts us all at risk, so we stay together. Got it?”

Everyone agreed.

The pilot announced the beginning of our descent. Claire and Bex had already brought the supplies and weapons packs to the front, and we were prepared to scramble to the waiting vehicle.

Jared was clearly anxious, but Samuel didn’t seem fazed.

I nudged my husband. “Samuel said he would ride with us to the old city. Does that mean things wil be calm until then?”

“I don’t know. We should be prepared for anything.”

I nodded, and wiped my sweaty hands on my pants.

Claire and Ryan both had AK-47s slung around their shoulders, pistols in the pockets of their cargo pants, and communication devices in their ears. Claire passed two more to Bex and Jared, and they spoke quietly to each other, testing the clarity and to see if they worked correctly.

The more they rushed around to prepare to land, the more nervous I became.

Claire handed me a vest, and Jared encouraged me to put it on. I watched Claire hand the same vest to Kim, Bex, and Ryan, and I realized they were bul etproof. Mine was surprisingly light.

Jared bent down to ensure my laces were tied and secure.

“Real y?” I said. “I’m not a toddler.”

“I’m just covering all the bases, sweetheart.”

Kim and Samuel sat back, barely noticing the activity around them.

“Ryan,” Claire barked. “Hand me the fifty-cal. The launcher is in pack two.”

Ryan nodded, and rifled through one of the larger duffels. He handed her what looked like a heavy backpack.

As the wheels touched the runway, Claire and Ryan put on their own dark sunglasses and stood by the door, assault rifles in hand. I unfastened my seat belt, and Jared took my hand. Kim and Nina in the middle, Bex bring up the rear. Claire and Ryan on point.

At the door, Samuel closed his eyes and whispered something both beautiful and menacing, and then opened the door. He walked out, and stood, his arms crossed, on one side of the stairs.

“It’s quite safe, I assure you,” he said, his deep voice echoing. The tarmac was empty except for our waiting Humvee. It was borrowed, light tan, and gauging by the bul et holes, had already seen action in its lifetime.

Claire took off her sunglasses and looked up at Samuel in awe. “It’s going to be like this until we get to the old city?”

“If not, I’ll take care of it, but it would be a waste for them to attack any earlier.”

Claire elbowed him in the stomach, but he didn’t flinch. “You let me get all dressed up for nothing.”

Samuel smiled. “I thought you’d be happy. The Humvee matches your clothes.”

Claire looked down at her olive green tank top and light tan cargo pants, and then feigned irritation. “Not good enough.”

Samuel’s hand swal owed Claire’s smal shoulder. “Once you reach Jerusalem, I promise you’l use your fancy vest more than you’d like.”

Claire and Jared traded glances.

“Sounds like a party,” Ryan said with a grin.

Chapter Eighteen


Loading the Humvee only took a few minutes, and then we were barreling down the highway, weaving in and out of traffic. Bex drove, Claire sat in the passenger seat, and the rest of us piled in the back. Jared barked directions at Bex, securing packs and loading weapons at the same time.

Knowing he was in protector mode until we were all safely tucked under the Sepulchre made me miss him, but I had to let him focus. The more miles Bex put behind us, the more my fear threatened to take over.

Kim scooted closer to me and grabbed my hand.

I looked over at her sheepishly. “Are you scared?”

“I’m about to piss my pants.”

I nodded quickly, glad that I wasn’t the only one not looking forward to a battle.

Ryan was humming along to a song inside his head, tapping his fingers to the beat against his assault rifle.

“You weren’t kidding” I said.

He looked up. “What?”

“About the party.”

He smiled. “What can I say? I miss it.”

Kim laughed once, incredulous. I couldn’t even manage a reaction.

“Oh c’mon,” he said. He gestured to us, “You two get to see me in action for the first time. Who can say they’re friend has gone off to war and then they get to watch them work? No civilians, I guarantee it.”

“It’s going to get bad,” I said.

He shook his head and smiled. “I’m counting on it.”

As usual, Ryan’s casual demeanor made my anger boil just below the surface. “What if something happens to you? Do you know what that means for Claire?”

“This isn’t my first rodeo, kiddo.”

Kim leaned forward. “It’s not your moment to impress her, either. This is serious. Quit screwing around and focus before you get us all kill ed.”

While Ryan and Kim bickered, I leaned up to look out the window. The scenery didn’t look so different. Retail stores, traffic, and pedestrians. The only thing that seemed foreign was the sun and palm trees. We could have been in California. I settled back against my seat. For reasons I couldn’t explain, the familiar surroundings made me feel better.