CHAPTER 1

 

Joshua ran through the darkened, rain-soaked landscape, fear twisting through every muscle fiber in his body. The sound of soggy footfalls and the rustling of branches behind him told him that his pursuer was gaining ground.

 

Gnarled tree roots jutted up from the deeply rutted mountain trail snatching at his ankles and playing havoc with setting a stride. Every step along the slippery path spelled potential disaster. The hammering in his chest resonated throughout his body as he concentrated on planting one foot in front of the other on the ground and prayed he would not lose footing. A ticking clock thundered inside his brain with urgency; he had to make it to the top of the falls before it was too late.

 

Pounding rain cascaded down his forehead into his eyes. A leaden heaviness had settled into his limbs and raising his hand to wipe away the moisture seemed a task too monumental to undertake. His breaths had become preternaturally labored, appearing in front of his face in rhythmic wisps of fog.

 

The deafening roar of rushing water exploded into his ears as he rounded a bend in the trail into a clearing. He slid to a halt at the water’s edge where fallen, silver timbers breached a ten-foot gulch. There was no escape except across the tenuous bridge.

 

He stepped onto the logs and spread his arms for balance, training his eyes on the opposite bank. There was no time for slow and steady; he took quick, short steps as the currents gushed beneath him, spraying the air with cold run-off that stung his face like b-b pellets. His mud packed running shoes aided little in gaining a foothold on slippery and unstable surface.

 

The logs beneath him shuddered, stealing his equilibrium.

Driven by panic, he grasped at air for a hold but sensing the futility of his actions, he threw himself instead toward the nearby embankment. His ribs collided into solid ground with a racking force that numbed his arms, sent flashes of light twinkling in his brain, and robbed his air. He hoped the crackling sound was old tinder that had drifted to the banks and not his young bones. Breathless, he frantically sought for a handhold and snared a thick shrub of brush just as his body hit the water. The frigid stream sucked from his lungs what little breath remained.

 

Powerful currents tore at him, twisting and pulling until it felt as if his arm might be wrenched from its socket. Floating helplessly belly-up, his feet pointing toward the night sky, his teeth chattering, he reached blindly over his head with his left arm, searching for another hold. With the freezing waters gushing into his mouth and nostrils, he caught hold of something sturdy.

 

As he struggled to pull himself from the torrents, the silhouette of a man appeared at the opposite bank. Horror crawled over him. His thoughts rocketed between taking his chances in the treacherous waters and an intense curiosity about who had chased him all this way, forcing him into his present predicament. The face of his nemesis was indistinguishable in the darkness, but Josh was certain that he could see the man’s lips moving.

“Joshua!”

Had he heard the phantom pursuer speak his name?

“Joshua!” Urgency permeated the stranger’s voice.

His mind raced.

 

“Joshua, if you don’t get out of bed right now. . .”

His eyes snapped open. He startled at the realization that he was safe in his home and not on the mountain path where his dreams had once more deposited him. His mother sat on the edge of the bed shaking him.

 

“Our company is here. Your brother already did all your chores . . . again. Get out of bed, young man, you’ve slept half the afternoon away.”

“Ah shit, Mom.”

“I don’t think I heard that, Josh.”

 

The fogginess of sleep drifted from his brain. “What I meant to say was that it’s always a pleasure to wake up to the sound of your voice and the sight of your beautiful face because I adore you,” he said, rubbing his eyes and smiling. It truly was, he realized as an afterthought. Although his mother was considerably older than all of his friends’ mothers, he could not deny that Maria DeAngeles was still a gorgeous woman.

 

“What time did you get in last night, Josh?” his mother asked as he peeled himself away from his sheets and staggered to his feet. Torrents of rain drummed at the rooftop and windows of their Boulder, Colorado, home.

“I think it was around two.”

“Think again.”

 

“I guess it might have been closer to three-thirty,” he confessed en route to the bathroom in his boxer shorts.

The look on his mother’s face told him this conversation wasn’t over.

“What, Mom?”

“You’re being careful, Josh?”

“Careful?”

 

“With Maggie. I’m not ready to be a grandmother, and you’re certainly not ready to be a father.” Her face softened, offering the flicker of a smile. “ Not that you won’t make a wonderful father when the time comes, which is at least another ten, no make that twenty, years away.”

 

“Don’t worry, Mom, the time won’t be coming anytime soon. Last night, all we did was walk the Pearl Street Mall and along the Boulder Creek, then I took her home and we watched a DVD and talked.” Josh and Maggie’s affection for each other had grown deeper over the past few months. Very little escaped his mother’s attention.

 

“Good boy.” His mother’s spirited dark eyes emanated warmth and intelligence.

 

“Now there’s a phrase I seldom hear in your presence, Josh,” his brother said with an easy infectious laugh as he entered their bedroom. Slightly more bulky and less verbal than Josh, he and Jamie were nonetheless the mirror image of each other.

Thunder rocked the house with an unbridled fury as spiraling winds howled out of the canyons along the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rockies, rattling the windows. Both boys flinched simultaneously.

 

“Yow! The gods are angry,” Joshua said. Flashes of lightning lit up the sky outside their bedroom window, silhouetting the monolithic mountain outcrop known as the Devil’s Thumb and casting threatening shadows across the houses below.

He slipped into the pair of jeans he had discarded on the bathroom floor the previous evening and slid into running shoes.

“Uncle C brought the digital video of our last meet. He says we have a few minor flaws with our strides.”

Josh tilted his head and gently tapped behind his ear as if to knock loose gravel. “Did I just hear Saint Jamie admit to a minor imperfection?”

 

“That was the altruistic ‘we’ meaning you, dickhead.”

Josh pushed pass his brother, sharing a playful elbow with Jamie’s ribs. “We are hungry,” he announced bounding noisily down the stairs, Jamie chasing after him.

“Did you wish Mom a happy anniversary, Josh?” his brother whispered, grabbing Josh by the shoulder and stopping him
in his tracks.

 

“Damn! That’s why the company?”

“Duh.”

 

Little Katlin Van Brunt sat at the foot of the steps. “Hi, Josh,” she said shyly.

 

Josh swooped the tow headed six-year old up into his arms. “How’s my best girl?” he asked kissing her cherubic cheek.

She wrapped her arms around his neck. “Shhh. Gabrielle thinks she’s your best girl.”

 

“Is it okay if you both are?” he whispered.

As she nodded her approval, Gabby, eleven months the junior sister, appeared out of thin air and wrapped herself around the lower half of his body almost knocking him down. “Josh! Josh! You’re here.”

 

“Brother, I can’t understand what the opposite sex sees in you. You’re not nearly as handsome as I am,” Jamie smirked.

“But I’m dangerous. Woman, even the young ones, love that about me.”

 

Jamie faked a cough that came out sounding like “bullshit” for which he received a smack upside the back of his head from his mother.

 

“Language! There are impressionable children within earshot.”

As Josh and the girls chuckled their amusement at Jamie’s ill fortune, Halle Van Brunt, the girls’ mother, came to her Godson’s defense. She squeezed Jamie’s face between her hands and kissed him. “Don’t go hurting our sweet boy,” she warned his mother playfully.

 

“This guy is the one who needs the discipline,” Cleon Simons instructed as he wrapped his long muscular arm around Josh’s head.

 

“Hey, Uncle C. How they hanging?” Josh asked with devilish intent, enjoying his mother’s hopeless cringe at his choice of words. She appeared uncharacteristically uptight. One child in his arms and dragging the other girl seated on his foot, he headed towards the conversation resounding from the family room. As he passed through the archway Rolland Van Brunt and Barbara Simons greeted him with enthusiasm. His father, however, didn’t even appear to notice his arrival.

 

Dani DeAngeles’ somber expression reflected in the large expanse of window in the living room, which provided a panoramic view of the Front Range. Josh had little tolerance for the old man’s episodic brooding, a reality to which his mother and Jamie had become accustomed and accepted. Tonight, however, the sadness in his father’s eyes, a tortured look that often appeared out of nowhere and overshadowed Dani DeAngeles’ otherwise serene expression, seemed as oppressive as the weather. It was obvious that his father was once again lost in thought, mired knee-deep in a past life about which, and for some unknown reason, his parents were stubbornly unwilling to discuss. Whatever unknown cross his father shouldered, the memories and accompanying guilt he bore had cut a deep hole in the man and an equally deep chasm between him and his son.

 

Josh pecked Katlin’s cheek again and placed her on the floor next to her sister whose eyes demanded equal treatment. He provided it without a second thought.

 

“The Old Man sure knows how to liven up a party,” Joshua said under his breath to Jamie. “Anyone check his pulse lately to see if he’s still ticking?” he added without empathy.

“Come on, Josh. Cut Dad some slack,” his brother whispered back.

 

A predictable answer, he thought, brushing the thick auburn hair from his forehead. Jamie always stood up for their father, although Josh didn’t understand why. He ignored Jamie as much as everyone else. When he wasn’t in one of his blue funks, or watching the varnish dry on the cabinets he made for a living, his father immersed himself in a rigorous and solitary regimen of physical training, hiking, and mountain climbing that seemed not only inappropriate for his advanced years but also a deliberate strategy to escape his family, especially Josh. “I’m sure Mom would tell us if he had actually passed away,” he said.

Jamie frowned.

 

Joshua knew his brother thought he treated everything as a joke, especially their father’s pain. Perhaps he did. He and Jamie bore such an uncanny physical resemblance to their father, Josh had reasoned during one of his more introspective moments that perhaps he, too, needed to distance himself from them to gain a sense of individuality.

 

Dani couldn’t bear looking at his reflection in the glass any longer. He put his large, callused hands into his pockets and withdrew their contents, two simple handwritten notes. The first one listed three names, “Shabtai Zui, Osman Baba, Jacob Joseph Frank.” He had found that one tucked into the saddle of his mountain bike three days ago. All three names were vaguely familiar but his failing memory denied him access to placing the monikers. A search of the Internet on the family computer had provided the answers his mind had denied him. All three men were recognized as Jewish messiahs; Zui in the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire, and both Baba and Frank in Poland. Yesterday morning, a second note appeared just as mysteriously. This one was more cryptic and no less disturbing. In the same pigeon-scratched handwriting it said, “Summon people to good will and repentance. Time is of the essence. They have been watching you.”

 

He hadn’t a clue as to the notes’ author. When he found the second note, Art Polanski, his octogenarian neighbor was out front across the street watering his lawn. When Dani looked over at him, Art nodded his customary nonverbal greeting. Over the years, the two men had exchanged little more than a couple of sentences, and almost nothing since Art’s wife, Miriam, had passed on.

 

Dani glanced at the television. The channel was turned to CNN where the commentators reported the day’s big story: the invasion of Israel by the new Islamic Alliance and the imminent address to the nation by the President of the United States.

The deep resonant voice of Cleon Simons filled the room as he entered it. “The bastard is going to do it, Dani! Plimpton is going to appoint Pontius as Head of Military Operations in the Middle East.” The professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado swabbed imaginary sweat from his long, black forehead. He pointed an accusing finger toward the television. “That crazy son of a bitch will want to nuke the entire Fertile Crescent! Would have obliterated Iraq after 9/11 had he been in charge back then and nobody stopped him.”

 

Halle Van Brunt nodded her agreement. “My brother interviewed Pontius for WOR-TV in New York several years ago. Off the record, he says Pontius is a cold-blooded killer and a psychopath.”

“The press he gets makes him sound like Mother Theresa, Daniel Boone, and Uncle Sam all rolled up into one!” Barbara Simons huffed, rolling her eyes.

 

“According to my brother, anything even hinting that he might not be ‘The All-American Hero’ gets squelched. He apparently has some very powerful people in his corner.”

 

Cleon paced. “With the way things have escalated during the past few months . . . and now that the Islamic Alliance has actually crossed Israel’s borders . . . my God!” He threw his hands up in disgust. “The ‘Club’ is making some big bucks on this one!”

“Here goes another of C’s diatribes on the military-industrial complex!” Rolland Van Brunt snickered in an arrogant tone intended to spark Simons’ ire. “Maybe it really is time for a final solution in the Middle East. There’s no reasoning with those fanatics. My God, unrest in the Middle East has been a lead story most every day since the advent of television news.”

“I can’t believe you even thought that, let alone spoke it out loud,” his wife interjected.

 

Cleon slid his thick-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose with his index finger. “Rolland, my dear friend, you can’t possibly know what war is really like until you’ve been in battle.”

“Oh, spare me, Professor.”

 

Simons softened his voice. “All too often people intellectualize war or wrap themselves up in the American flag, thinking themselves patriotic without understanding the Pandora’s box they open. Once the choice is made to take up arms, you’ve not only condoned but also approved all its consequences. Innocent children will be killed and maimed. Women will be raped. Parents and grandparents will be brutally slaughtered. People will be driven from their homes. And as the father watches his daughter die and the little boy wipes his mother’s blood from his hands, they will swear to exact their revenge, escalating not only the current fighting but perpetuating generations of hating. These are not merely isolated incidences, but inevitable outcomes of the decision to implement war as an option for settling disputes.

“If you…” Rolland began before Simons silenced him with the wave of his large hand.

 

“War moves us all away from goodness, regardless of whether it is justified or not. My two years in Vietnam were the most ill spent time of my life.” He maintained a calm, rational tone, doing his best to not sound condescending. “In the thick of battle, good men do evil and it doesn’t much matter who or what is right or wrong.” To the rumble of thunder overhead he added, “Hearts and souls are perverted, minds deranged, lives ruined. Killing begets killing; hatred begets hatred. There is no real upside . . . except for the profiteers.”

 

“Sometimes, war is unavoidable,” the jug-eared Van Brunt interjected.

 

“That’s true. Sometimes. Taking up arms against Hitler and his Third Reich was the noble thing. But, even that might have been avoided if the powers that be would have taken appropriate action long before that lunatic had whetted his appetite for blood. Generally, we don’t try hard enough to work out viable options. We’re in need of a leader who inspires us to be more than we have become, to live up to and eclipse the magnificent dream of our Founding Fathers. Another mentally deficient, self-righteous demagogue wanting to cement his place in history won’t suffice; not in these turbulent times.”

 

Dani uttered not a word; a reality to which he knew his friends had grown accustomed. Out of necessity, he engaged in no discussion of politics or religion, in most incidences, quietly slipping out of any room in which such conversations were bantered about.

 

Maria’s doleful eyes fixed on him as if to probe Dani’s mind. “I think it’s time,” she said, rising from the soft overstuffed sofa. Her Nikes squeaked as she glided across the sandstone-colored tiles toward the window. Dani followed her petite, yet athletic, body with his eyes, watching uncertainly as his striking, dark-haired mate removed the cushions from the window seat beneath the large bay windows and neatly stacked them on the floor. Unoiled hinges squealed as she removed a guitar case from the storage area under the seat. His heart stuttered.

She retraced her steps and placed the case on the floor in front of him. Opening it, she retrieved a guitar from its cushioned confines and held it out to him.

 

“I bought new strings yesterday. It’s strung and tuned for you.”

Dani’s eyes darted nervously around the room at its occupants. The Simons’ and the Van Brunt’s were his and Maria’s closest friends for nearly twenty-five years, and godparents to the twins. Yet, he had shared almost nothing of his life prior to their developing friendships.

 

His sons exchanged wide-eyed quizzical looks.

“Outrageous strings, Dad! Is that guitar yours?” Jamie asked.

He was unable to respond. Pressing his silvered mustache between his thumb and forefinger, he wondered if it would have been better if he had not shown Maria the two notes he had received.

 

“It’s time, Dani. You know it’s time to play and sing again,” Maria said almost as a plea, still holding out the instrument.

Barbara Simons looked stunned. Not quite under her breath she whispered to Cleon. “He sings?”

 

Dani’s stomach constricted; his body felt hollow. Lowering his head, he closed his eyes as if to fend off a bad dream. He had been thinking a lot about the Ramirez lately. Maria always seemed to anticipate his thoughts, knew what he needed better than he did.

 

The guitar pulled at him like a magnet. He hesitantly reached out for it, afraid to touch it. When Maria nudged the instrument into his fingers, a shot of electricity bolted through him. Accepting her offering, he caressed the Ramirez, running his hands over its contours until his fingers came to rest on the beautifully hand-painted dove that adorned its face. It had been a long time, a very long time.

 

Cleon appeared equally baffled and uncharacteristically took little notice as the President of the United States announced from the television screen that he had issued an ultimatum to the Islamic Alliance to halt all aggression in the Middle East.

All eyes were glued upon Dani.

 

As the reticent cabinetmaker strummed a few chords, tears welled in his eyes. He looked furtively to Maria, who nodded her reassurance.

 

As if in a trance, he began to play “Our Love Is A Prayer,” a song that had not been heard in decades but one that instantly stirred vivid memories. For millions of couples around the world, the tune marked the event of their first meeting, first slow dance, first moonlight kiss or night of passion, and yet not a single radio station ever played that song or had any artist re-recorded the tune. Not a soul on the face of this earth could have done the beautiful hymn justice except the man who had written and performed it, the legendary Dane Agee. Few voices more clearly marked a signature than this rare heavenly cantatrice.

When he finished the song, Dani looked around the room at the stunned faces of his audience. Cleon was the first to break the silence. “I’ll be damned! Dani is Dane Agee.”

 

* * * * *

 

Alone in the opulent confines of her spacious Georgetown townhouse, Alice Faye Barclay turned her gaze from the television set and the President’s news conference to enjoy nature’s fireworks display; a spectacular thunder and lightning storm pervading the skies over the Capitol. The sky cracked and roared and shimmered. Power. Beautiful, unrestrained power; raw, dangerous, and intoxicating like she too commanded, and an absence of conscience allowed her to exploit. A second-generation evangelist and mystic, she had captured the ear--and the balls--of the most influential men in Washington. Alice Faye Barclay was a dangerous woman. She knew it and enjoyed the fact beyond measure.

 

“If we must act, we do so knowing that God is on our side and His presence in our hearts,” the President drawled from the Oval Office, dramatizing his words by reeling in his outstretched arms to fold his hands in prayer.

 

“My words; I own him,” Alice Faye snickered aloud as she admired her reflection in the expanse of window that looked out over the Capital. A smile crossed her lips, transforming the hardness of her face and the coldness in her eyes into a well-practiced angelic expression. She thought back to her last meeting only a few hours earlier with President Harley Rutherford Plimpton.

In Plimpton’s private study in the White House, Alice Faye had fallen to her knees in prayer, holding securely to the hands of the President and First Lady of the United States. “Heavenly Father,” she began, pinching her eyes closed, her head uplifted as if she spoke directly to the Deity, “enter into Your most humble servant, the instrument of Your will.”

 

The President knelt, tense with anticipation.

 

Over the years, Alice Faye had orchestrated ample opportunities for Plimpton to witness with his own eyes the miracle of Divine Revelation manifested through her. She prophesized the formation of the new Islamic Alliance of States, and its intentions to invade Israel, weeks before legitimate channels brought that intelligence to the President’s attention. The intricate network of international power brokers, the sensitive information at their disposal and sway they wielded, which was unfathomable to the marionette Plimpton, was a steady breeze that regularly blew through her bedroom chamber. Plimpton was in awe of Alice Faye Barclay, afraid of her, and most certainly, he believed that she was an instrument of God.

 

In fact, Plimpton credited his political success to the religious instruction and guidance that first the Reverend Luther Ezekiel Barclay, and then his beautiful daughter, Alice Faye, had rendered. It was their ability to rally the diverse Christian churches behind the banner of the shoe salesman turned politician that accounted for Plimpton’s strong base of popular support, and his rapid ascent to the Presidency. After a few years as an insignificant local official in the rural West Virginia community in which he had been born and raised, Plimpton’s political fortunes changed quickly under the Barclays’ guiding inspiration and influence. Serving a brief term with the West Virginia House, then two terms as a United States Congressman, the silver-haired, portly Plimpton rose to the highest political post in the nation in a lopsided victory over the opposing party’s incumbent.

 

Alice Faye shook with calculated religious fervor. “Oh, yes, Sweet Jesus! Yes, Holy Savior! I know that understanding isn’t always possible and that sometimes one must act solely on faith.”

She knew the President hung on her every word, could see his throat tighten; neck flush, and droplets of perspiration accumulate on his upper lip. Alice Faye squeezed Plimpton’s hand and that of the First Lady, until their knuckles turned white. Chelsea Plimpton moaned aloud, whether in pain or taken up in the ecstasy of the moment; not even the First Lady knew for certain.

 

“Is your faith strong, Harley Rutherford Plimpton?” Alice Faye roared.

 

“Yes, sweet Jesus! Yes! Unshakable. I am your obedient servant.”

She looked to the First Lady, her father’s sister. “And you, Chelsea Barclay Plimpton?” It was a pointless question to which she already knew the answer.

 

“Oh yes, Lord!” the First Lady responded, trembling violently.

“Thy will be done Lord,” Alice Faye mewed softly, painting a soulful smile upon her face and allowing her body to go limp. She opened her eyes. A single tear formed and rolled down her cheek.

President Plimpton swallowed hard, his breath fluttering with anticipation.

 

“Sister,” Alice Faye said, feigning tenderness and leaning over to her Aunt Chelsea, “Heaven and history awaits your husband.” She kissed the woman long and hard on the lips as she pulled the President’s face to her bosom. His lips quivered at the touch of her bare skin exposed by the plunging neckline of a white silk dress.

 

“Love is the key to heaven,” Alice Faye continued after unlocking her lips from the First Lady’s and holding her away at arm’s length. She nestled Harley Plimpton firmly to her breast and slowly shifted her body so that her hardened nipples brushed lightly across his lips. When she felt certain that she had created enough sexual tension that the silver-haired Plimpton might explode, she eased up on the pressure she exerted on the back of his neck and guided his face to her own.

 

“Tell the American people that Our Lord will not allow another single drop of American blood to be spilled on foreign soil, Mr. President. It is time to act and we do so knowing that God is on our side, His presence in our hearts.” With that said, she kissed him, too, full on the lips.

 

“I told you, Harley. I told you that Sister Alice Faye would guide us to salvation through Jesus,” Chelsea said with her thick, drawling accent that betrayed her less than patrician Appalachian lineage. Tears streamed from her eyes. She raised her hands to Heaven.

 

Alice Faye held the kiss, allowed her hand to slide down the President’s body and touch him lightly on the inside of his thigh. “It’s time to issue an ultimatum to the heathen Islamic Alliance,” she said. “Judgment Day has arrived. The Lord Jehovah demands a permanent and final solution to the Middle East situation. You will need a devoted soldier of Christ to wield the Lord’s mighty sword. That man is General Pontius. This evening when you address the nation, tell them of the Lord’s plan for peace.”

A decisive victory in the Middle East would move Pontius one step closer to the White House, maintaining Alice Faye’s control not only over the Presidency but also placing the military-industrial complex directly under her dominion.

 

The President bowed his head. “Thank you, Holy Sister.”

The trio got to their feet and embraced as one. Again, Alice Faye brushed her thigh against Plimpton’s groin. Satisfied that she had created the desired affect, she stepped back.

 

“With your permission, Mr. President, I am spent and must return home to meditate,” she said bowing, holding on to their hands until the distance between them widened and broke the grip.

“Thank you, Sister. Praise be to God,” Chelsea gasped as the holy woman exited.

 

Alice Faye curled her lips into a thin, evil smile. Simpletons, she thought. The American public seemed to possess a penchant for handing over the most powerful office in the world to mediocre minds.

 

When a blast of wind slammed hard into the massive picture window of her living room, rattling the pane and causing the reflection of the Capitol lights to waver, Alice Faye’s attention refocused to the present. The full wall of glass reflected the naked body of the room’s solitary occupant seated in front of the television. Approaching her fifty-third birthday, Alice Faye was a mature beauty whose long torso accentuated rich curves and voluptuous breasts that women half her age envied. With dispassionate eyes, the minister took inventory of herself in the reflection. A work of art worthy of the masters, she thought, shaking her long bleach blonde hair from her smooth tanned shoulders. A tidal wave of sensation rushed through her body, tingling. Power. Sensual, sexual power.

 

Her nipples swelled and stood out high atop the firm lift of her breasts. She examined them with a dark passion, drawing circles around the hardened areola with her thumbs. The movement generalized to tracing the curvature of her breasts, squeezing the soft flesh between her palms, then hypnotically allowing her hands to trail across her flat abdomen, over her hips to the inside of her thighs. Her breaths quickened as she gently massaged the moistened crevice between her legs. As she caressed the body that was the instrument of her power, her exhilaration escalated.

“And I promise, not another American will be asked to spill their blood on foreign soil,” the President continued from the television screen. “It is time for more decisive measures, a more permanent solution to the Middle East situation.”

 

Out of the corner of her eye, Alice Faye noticed that the red signal light on the intercom box was flashing. She reached over the arm of the sofa, lowered her face to the speaker box and pressed the button. “Yes, Andrew.”

 

“The Express Mail packet you were expecting from the Attorney’s office in Boulder, Colorado, has just arrived. Would you like me to bring it up now, Reverend, and is there anything else you require before I retire for the evening?”

 

“Yes, come up right away, Andrew. Don’t bother to knock.”

The young boy’s voice cracked. “Yes, Reverend.”

Seconds later, the delicate young teenager she had rescued from the cruel Capitol’s streets sauntered through the double gold-embossed doors, stopping a few feet from the sofa where his employer sat naked.

 

She extended an open palm, “I’ll sign these now and expect you to get them sent back out immediately. I want to close this land deal as soon as possible.”

 

“Yes, Holy Sister,” he stammered, locking his stare on a painting hanging on the wall behind her as he handed her the envelop and stepped back.

 

There were stamps with pictures of angels on the mail. Over the last several weeks it seemed that everywhere she turned there were pictures of angels.

 

“A pen!” she demanded without looking at the boy. When he fumbled in his pocket she added, “Today!”

He held out the pen at arm’s length.

“Give me the damn pen,” she insisted.

The boy stepped closer, his hand still extended.

The priestess snatched his wrist and looked up at her manservant’s boyish face, her eyes shark cold. “You’re trembling, Andrew,” she said, savoring the desperation and fear hidden behind her underling’s formality.

“Yes, Reverend.”

 

She stood, taking a grim pleasure in Andrew’s discomfort.

“What is this mark on the front of the packet? Did you make it?” She dug her fingernails into his wrist.

The boy winced. “No, Reverend. I’d never deface any of your property.”

 

She dug her nails deeper.

Wincing he responded as if a plea, “It looks like the letter ‘G’.”

“The letter ‘G’?”

 

“Yes, Reverend. It looks like a ‘G’ to me.” Tears appeared in his eyes as he continued to stare over her shoulder.

“I’m a beautiful woman, am I not?”

 

The boy’s Adam’s apple spasmed as he swallowed his fear.

“Look at me, Andrew,” she ordered him.

“Yes, Reverend.” The teenager lowered his gaze.

“Tell me!” she demanded.

“You are extremely beautiful.”

“And what of these?” she asked.

The boy’s attention shifted to her breasts. “Most beautiful,” he stammered glassy-eyed.

 

Eyeing the boy severely, she slapped his face, freezing him into absolute stillness. With the quickness of a cobra, she grabbed a full hand of hair at the crown of his head and jerked the young man’s head back hard, forcing him to his knees. The frightened boy grimaced and the tears that welled up in his eyes now spilled down his cheeks.

 

“I am the Lord’s instrument,” she stated with conviction.

“Yes, Reverend,” Andrew groaned.

“Play me,” she commanded.

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