his feet. I saw his polished black shoes with their pointed toes, and at that moment, I didn’t care about the pain in my limbs or the pounding in my head or about feeling sick and weak from lack of nourishment. All I cared about was getting to my feet. I would not bow before an Agent of Darkness. I would rather die than betray my Heavenly allegiance by surrendering to him.

I put a hand out to the wall and used it to haul myself to my feet. It took all my energy, and I didn’t know how long I could keep it up. My knees wanted to buckle beneath me.

Jake looked at me with mild amusement.

“Hardly the time for loyalty,” he jeered. “You do realize I hold your life in my hands? Worship me if you want to live to see your Xavier again.”

“I renounce you and all your works,” I said calmly.

This seemed to enrage him, and he lifted me off my feet and threw me across the dining table. My head hit the surface with a crack before I careered onto the floor and landed in a heap. Something sticky was snaking its way down my forehead.

“All right down there?” Jake asked smugly from his position, leaning against the side of the table. He roughly stroked the wound on my face and his hands radiated heat.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he purred. He waited for a sign of agreement, but I remained mute.

“Well, if that’s your answer, you leave me no choice. I’m going to have to rip every shred of goodness out of you,” he said softly. “When I’m done there won’t be a scrap of honesty or integrity left.”

He bent over me so that his hair fell over his glistening eyes. He was just inches from me, and I could see every feature, the curve of his prominent cheekbones, the thin line of his mouth, the stubble on his chin.

“I’m going to blacken your soul and then claim it as my own.”

My body began to shudder at his words. I grasped desperately at the table legs, looking for leverage, a way of escape. Jake ran a hand slowly along the length of my arm, savoring the contact. My skin burned and throbbed, and when I looked down, I saw a ribbon of red where his touch had scorched me.

“I’m afraid you won’t be going back to Heaven, Bethany, because by the time I’m finished with you, they won’t let you in.”

He stroked my face with a single finger and then traced the outline of my lips. I felt my face turn into a burning mask.

I turned away and thrashed furiously, but Jake held me and forced me to look at him. I felt as though his fingers were boring right through my cheeks.

“Don’t fret, my angel, we are very hospitable in Hell.”

He kissed me roughly, the weight of his body pressing down on me before he pulled away. Spasms of heat seared through my entire body.

“It’s time to say good-bye, Miss Church.”

Jake closed his eyes and concentrated so hard that I saw beads of sweat appear on his brow. A vein pulsated close to his temples. Then, slowly, he straightened, reached out, and clamped his hands around my head.

That was when it happened — an onslaught of tearing, hot needles pierced my mind, and in a single moment, I saw all the evil perpetrated since the dawn of time concentrated in single moment. Every calamity known to man spliced into single disconnected images, a series of flashes so intense I thought my brain would shatter.

I saw children orphaned during wartime, villages turned to rubble by earthquakes, men blown apart by gunfire, families starving and weak from drought. I saw murders. I heard screams. I felt all the injustices of the world. Every illness known to humankind flooded through my body. Every feeling of terror, grief, and helplessness rushed at me. I felt every violent death acutely. I was in the car when Grace had the crash. I was a man in a boating accident, drowning in the ocean, crushed by the weight of the waves. I was Emily, swallowed alive by flames in her bed. And through it all I heard pitiless laughter, which I knew to be Jake’s.

The pain of thousands, of millions, entered my earthly flesh like shards of glass. I was vaguely aware of my body convulsing on the floor, my hands at my temples. I was an angel, and I was being filled with all the agony and darkness in the world. I knew it would kill me. I opened my mouth to beg Jake to end my suffering, but no sound emerged. I had no voice left even to beg for my own death. Still, the siege continued, the images of horror flooding out of Jake and into me until it was a struggle to take the next breath.

Jake wrenched his hands from my head and I felt my body sink in a moment of pure relief. It was then that I saw the fire, towering and engulfing all in its path, and I realized suddenly that the air was thick with smoke. The chandelier trembled and then fell as parts of the ceiling gave way, plaster and tiny glass beads cascading onto the dining table. A few feet away the curtains went up in flames, scattering a shower of embers. I covered my head but felt some land on my hands. My body was still throbbing and shuddering from the impact of the horrific memories; my lungs were filled with smoke, my eyes stung, and my head was reeling. I could feel myself slipping from consciousness. I struggled against it, but I was losing the battle. All I could see was Jake’s face framed by a circle of fire.

Then, the far wall was torn apart as if from an explosion. For a moment I could see the deserted street beyond, before a dazzling brightness filled the room. Jake staggered backward, shielding his eyes. Gabriel emerged from the rubble, wings outstretched and sword blazing like a pillar of white light in his hands. His hair streamed behind him like ribbons of gold. Xavier and Ivy came next, and both rushed to my side. Xavier, his face streaked with tears, went to gather me in his arms, but Ivy restrained him.

“Don’t move her,” she said. “Her injuries are too great. We will have to start the healing process here.”

Xavier took my face in his hands.

“Beth?” I felt his lips close to my cheek. “Can you hear me?”

“She can’t answer,” Ivy’s sweet voice said, and I felt her cool fingers on my forehead. I lay convulsing on the floor as her healing energy flowed through me.

“What’s happening to her?” Xavier cried as my body shook and lurched. I felt my eyes roll back in my head, and my mouth opened in a silent scream. “You’re hurting her!”

“I’m draining her of the memories,” said Ivy. “They’ll kill her if I don’t.”

Xavier was so close I could hear his heart pounding. I fastened on to the sound, believing it was the only thing that could keep me alive.

“It’s going to be okay” he repeated gently. “It’s over now. We’re here. No one can hurt you. Stay with us, Beth. Just listen to my voice.”

I struggled to sit up and saw my brother emerge through a wall of flame. Light was rolling off him in waves, and it almost hurt to look at him, he was so bright and beautiful. He strode through the fire and stood face to face with Jake Thorn, and for the first time I saw a look of fear cross Jake’s face. He quickly composed himself and curled his lip into its familiar smirk.

“Come out to play, I see,” he said. “Just like old times.”

“I’ve come to put an end to your games,” replied Gabriel darkly.

He squared his shoulders and a howling wind blew up, rattling the glass in the windowpanes and casting the portraits from the walls. Cracks of lightning seared across the crimson sky, as if the heavens themselves were in revolt. In the midst of it all stood Gabriel, his powerful body rippling and glowing like a column of gold. The sword glowed white hot and hummed in his hand like a living entity. Jake Thorn staggered at the sight of it. When Gabriel spoke, his voice rolled out like thunder.

“I am going to give you one chance and one chance only,” he said. “You may still repent for your sins. You may still turn away from Lucifer and renounce his works.”

Jake spit at Gabriel’s feet. “It’s a bit late for that, wouldn’t you say? Generous of you to offer, though.”

“It is never too late,” my brother replied. “There is always hope.”

“The only thing I hope for is to see your power destroyed,” hissed Jake.

Gabriel’s face hardened and any trace of pity vanished from his voice. “Then be gone,” he commanded. “You have no place here. Return to Hell into which you were first exiled.”

He raised his sword, and the flames reared like living creatures to engulf Jake. They lurched over his head like vultures about to sweep on their prey — then suddenly froze. Something was holding them back — Jake’s own power seemed to be protecting him from harm. And so they stood, angel and demon locked in a silent battle of wills, the blazing sword caught between them, marking the division between the two worlds. Gabriel’s eyes flashed with the wrath of Heaven and Jake’s burned with the bloodlust of Hell. Through the haze of pain gripping my mind and body, I felt a cold and terrible fear. What if Gabriel failed to defeat Jake? What would become of us then? I

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