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The hundred yards down the aisle to where she was protecting the book seemed a mile away, but I took off without hesitation.

Seeing that I was running to her, Kim scrambled to her feet, sprinting down the aisle to meet me. I turned, seeing Jared and Bex attacking Shax, and his minions were quickly crawling to the floor in endless numbers. Adrenaline kicked in, and my feet moved faster, desperate to reach Kim before the demons caught me.

“Run, Nina!” Kim screamed, the horror on her face tel ing me in moments I would be crushed and torn apart by the Hel so closely pursuing my flesh.

Their screeches were almost on top of me when Kim's long arms reached out, encompassing my body as she brought me to the ground. The wailing of the minions experiencing what Kim was capable of was deafening, but the individual howling resounding farther away was most definitely the sound of Shax losing his fight with Jared and Bex.

And then it was quiet.

Chapter Nineteen


I peeked out from under Kim's arms, seeing Jared and Bex slowly making their way down the aisle. Kim helped me to stand, and Jared wasted no time pul ing me into his arms. His hands were trembling, and he was uncharacteristical y shaken.

“Are you okay?” Jared asked, evaluating every inch of me for any signs of trauma.

“No, I'm fine,” I said, shivering as the adrenaline soaked back into my system.

Bex carried Ryan in his arms, leaping and maneuvering around the ruins of St. Anne's to the entrance.

With the inordinate level of noise from just moments before, the night seemed eerily quiet. The crumbling concrete, wood and sheet rock grated against each other under my feet with every step. Those tiniest sounds echoed, even though the church seemed to be torn open and vulnerable, a contrast to the silence outside.

“We're going,” Claire said, her voice distant and emotionless.

“Right behind you,” Jared said. He lead me quickly out of St. Anne's by the hand.

I turned to take one last look at the rubble, and saw Kim help Father Francis to his feet. She threw his arm over her shoulders, hobbling along herself beside him as they fol owed us to the Escalade.

Time passed in slow motion. Although everyone was desperate to get Ryan to the hospital, the distance to Jared's SUV seemed like miles, and getting everyone, bruised and bleeding, settled into their seats was a slow, frustrating process.

Claire rode with Ryan in the hatch, holding his head in her lap as he was nearly sprawled out. She seemed lost as she held pressure on his wounds, watching his face intently.

Bex sat in the back seat with Kim and the priest, but his focus was on Claire. He reached back, gripping his sister's shoulder. Bex's expression was heartbreaking, as the worries in his mind played out across his face.

“The closest hospital, Father,” Jared said.

“Landmark Medical Center. Two minutes away. Stay on this street, and then turn left on Cass Avenue.”

Jared blew through the stoplight, and then weaved in and out of traffic, making a hard right turn into the hospital's ambulance bay.

“We need help here!” Jared yel ed, jumping out of the driver's side.

I ran to the back, watching Jared open the hatch. Bex helped the priest into the Emergency Room, and Claire let Jared place Ryan on a gurney.

Jared was gentle, as if it were Claire he were holding. A smal cry escaped my throat, drawing Jared's attention away for just a moment. His eyes were dark, and suddenly I felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu —but more of an out-of-body experience. Watching Jared and Claire hover over Ryan's limp body was like seeing my last trip to the hospital from a different, more real perspective. It was cruel for both of them to have to suffer through it again.

Ryan was pale, but he had stopped coughing up blood. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.

He managed a weak smile for Claire. “How about a kiss...just in case?”

Claire tenderly touched his forehead. “I'l tel you what, Cowboy. You come out of this alive, and I'l kiss you.”

“You promise?” he said.

“I promise,” Claire said, letting go of his hand.

In the emergency department's waiting room, Jared sat on the sofa next to me, Kim kept to herself, alone in a chair, and Claire stood with Bex in the corner. No one spoke, further discussion was unnecessary. We were waiting for someone to tel us if they had saved Ryan, or if Claire would die.

Claire kept her eyes closed, concentrating on everything she felt from Ryan. Her clothes were ripped and filthy, and her platinum pony tail had given up holding her hair in place hours ago. Once in a while she would twitch, and I wondered if she could sense when they used the scalpel, or if it was difficult while he was under anesthesia to sense anything at al . Jared would have answered my questions, but it was hardly the time.

The tension in the room was unbearable, but the waiting was worse.

I watched the faces of the people walking by. Some noticed our rag-tag group, some didn't. Glancing around the room, passers-by would no doubt wonder if we'd been in some sort of large accident. The news of the wreckage that was once St. Anne's would soon spread, and I worried that the hospital would be crawling with police officer's soon.

The random thought occurred to me that those staring had no idea the pretty platinum blonde they couldn't help but notice could be dead in the next forty-eight hours. Claire was the strongest, most amazing woman I had ever met, and she looked so helpless in that moment—so hopeless.

Final y, she broke the silence. “That's it,” she snapped, stomping her way to the door.

Bex stopped her. “Whoa...where do you think you're going?”

Claire shoved at her brother, fighting to get free. “I can help him. I have to do something; I can't just sit here!”

Bex grabbed her face, cupping her cherubic cheeks in his hands. “They won't let you in there, and if force your way in, you'l just distract them from what they should be concentrating on.”

Claire slammed the side of her fist into Bex's chest. “Let me go!”

Bex maneuvered his hands to get a better grip on Claire's arms, but she stopped struggling. Her eyes grew wide with fear.

“He's fading. They're losing him,” she said, her voice sad and frightened.

Claire's body bent backwards, stiff and unnatural.

I stood, cupping my hands over my mouth. “What's happening?” I cried.