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“You know my vote,” Claire said.

“Which is...?” Ryan said. His eyes remained closed.

Kim stood and stretched. “Jared, I know you want to find something, but we had a deal.”

“I know,” Jared growled.

I touched his arm. “What is Kim talking about?”

Jared didn't look up from the pages. “The promise I made her. If she helped us get back the book, then we would go with her to return it to the Holy Sepulchre. To set her family free.”

I couldn't argue, but Jared had just begun to look it over. Kim was being uncharacteristical y impatient.

“What's the rush?” I asked.

Kim waited for Jared to answer, but when he stayed focused on the book, she sighed. “Shax holds my family responsible. He'l retaliate.”

Claire laughed once. “He'l do that, anyway, when you return it and it's out of his reach. Your family's held him off this long. You can wait a few hours, Kim.”

“You don't get it,” Kim said.

“Just let him read the damn book,” Ryan groaned.

Questions formed in my mind, and I swal owed, always hesitant to get the answer. No matter what she might say, at that point I couldn't afford not to understand anything. The days of keeping me in the dark were over. “What doesn't Claire get, Kim?”

After a short pause, Kim took a breath. “I'm not there,” she said in a low tone. I've always been twenty minutes away; Shax knew that. He could have sent an entire legion to my father's house, and within minutes I would be there, and they would have to leave. We need to get on a plane, return the book, and then I need to get home before Shax realizes what we've done. Right now he just thinks you're looking for a loophole to the prophecy.

He has no idea he's about to lose the book forever.”

Claire put her elbow on the back edge of the pew, and rested her head on her hand. “You don't think Jared finding a loophole to the prophecy is more concerning to Shax than losing the book?”

“No,” Kim said, matter-of-factly.

“And why's that?” Claire snapped back.

Quiet overcame the group, until Jared closed the book with a clap. “Because there is no loophole.”

I smiled hopeful y. “Stop it, Jared. You haven't even read the whole thing, yet.”

“I just did,” he said, his eyes focused on the black seal that branded the cover. “They aren't going to stop until they prevent the birth of our child.”

Kim sat beside me, lowering her chin. “This entire cat-and-mouse Jared's been engaged in has been a game to Shax. The fact that Ryan is stil alive should tel you...he's just toying with al of us.”

I shook my head. “If that were true, why the dreams? Why did Jack and Gabe push us to get the book?”

Jared stood. “Because they knew that is exactly what I would do, and the dreams were their way of helping us complete a fool's errand alive.”

“No,” I said, standing next to him. “I don't believe that. If that were true, they would tel me to stay away from the book, not how to get it. Gabe wouldn't have helped my father if it was pointless.”

“Maybe you're right,” Jared said. “Maybe we need a little more time with it.”

“Jared?” Bex said.

Kim held up her hand in frustration. “Shax is a Duke of Hel , Jared. You pretty much walked into his house and slapped him, and he let you just walk out? Do you real y think that's how it works?”

Ryan pul ed the fabric from his eye, revealing a deep, bloody gash. “We didn't just walk out, Kim, trust me. They put up a fight. I've never seen anything like that in my life, and I hope I never do again.”

“Jared,” Bex said again.

Jared frowned at Bex, and then returned his attention to Kim. “Nina is your friend. Are you tel ing me you're not wil ing to wait for us to figure this out before we take it somewhere that we can never get it back?”

“She is my friend, but this is my family we're talking about. We've been dealing with this for lifetimes. It's time to end it. It's time the Pol ocks are free of it.”

Jared looked down at the book in his hands, and then back to Kim, his expression stern. “I understand your plight, but you're not getting this back until I'm satisfied there's nothing in it that can help Nina,” Jared said, shoving it under his arm.

Kim took a step forward. “We had a deal.”

“I haven't forgotten that,” Jared answered.

Father Francis came in with the first aid kit, taking quick steps. “I'm afraid it wasn't where I thought it would be....” he said, trailing off.

“Jared!” Bex yel ed. “They're coming!”

“Oh my God,” Kim whispered, her eyes slowly rising to the ceiling.

A deafening boom surrounded St. Anne's. Every window burst inward, covering the ground with shards of colored glass. Jared took me to the floor, covering me with his body.

Even after the explosion, it sounded as if a tornado was hovering above the church.

“Not in the House of the Lord!” Father Francis yel ed over the noise, his arms extended to the sky.

The priest was lifted high in the air by an invisible assailant, his legs kicking until he was blown back, smashing into the beautiful mural high above the stage. Pieces of the painting came down with him when he fel to the floor.

Bex rol ed into the aisle, and then took off toward the priest, so fast his body was a blur. He took Father Francis, limp and lifeless, into his arms.

The wind rushing through the broken windows blew Bex's platinum hair wildly as he felt for a pulse on the priest's neck.

“He's alive!” Bex call ed.

Another explosion shook the building, and pieces of the ceiling fel in large chunks onto the pews, sending sheet rock and plaster into the air.

“We have to move!” Jared yel ed, pul ing me to my feet.

The large wooden door blew open, forcing another strong pulse of wind across the room. Had Jared not kept his arms around me, I would have fal en over.

I held my hand to my face to shield it from the blast. When I lowered it, Shax was standing in the doorway.

He wore an al -black suit, shirt and tie, matching his cold, obsidian eyes. A smal smirk was on his face. He was final y ready to fight.