Immortal Memory (Book One) by Sylvia Frances

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." – Deuteronomy 31:6


-Longview, Texas
Immortal Memory (Book One)
Immortal Memory (Book One) by Sylvia Frances
Today's newspaper article on robberies seemed too familiar after Simra Reece brought it inside the house. She’d read the same story before today, and it had been on today's date. The kid peddling down the road on his bike and almost getting hit by a car didn’t happen once either. Today was February thirteenth, but history seemed to repeat itself. Maybe she dreamed of these future events last night, but most dreams did not predict reality. Simra shook her head at such irrational nonsense. The strong smell of coffee drifted through the doorway and drew her back inside to pour a cup. She savored the hot, creamy liquid. The hour grew near for work at the Alzheimer's facility that she and her cousin owned. She treasured giving so many a comfortable place to stay. An ominous chill swept past Simra and caused her to shiver. Her nose twitched at the faint aroma of smoke. Was something burning? Simra checked all the rooms but found nothing on fire. Maybe she imagined it. People were known to smell things that weren’t there. Cringing at a familiar feeling haunting her, she shuddered. A more frigid chill swept past her again and caused her teeth to chatter. Something hard crashed onto the floor and made her gasp. The empty coffee cup slipped from her grasp and shattered to pieces. Her trembling hands reached for a butcher knife to approach the object. Simra picked up her old wooden heart with the words “Forever Mine” engraved deep into it. An old Valentine's Day gift. She placed it onto the table. Impossible. Simra threw the gift in the trash several months ago. The guy couldn’t be inside her house. The alarm system would have sounded, and all the doors were bolted. The windows stayed locked. He had no key. Taking slow, quiet steps around the house, she checked everywhere. No one was inside the house except her. She even checked the doors to be sure they were still locked. Returning to where the heart dropped onto the hard floor, she spotted a letter beside it. It dated back to the last one he sent, which she refused to read. She threw the majority of them in the trash. This letter was out of the envelope and tempted her to read it. Simra unfolded it and read all the words. “My princess, I know you're upset with me, but I intend on spending forever with you. You're the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I promise everything will get better. I'm coming home to you as soon as I can. We'll have a fresh new start. I love you. Tristan Azazel.” More shivers of dread raked over her stiff body. She tried to control her voice from quivering. “Tristan?” Several knocks tapped against the front door. Simra rushed to the bedroom and pulled out her grandmother’s old pistol. She dared placing her hand on the cold brass door handle. Gazing out the side window, she saw no one. Jerking the door open with the gun behind her, she found nothing. Although the weather grew warmer lately, a coldness bit into her flesh like icy needles. Something evil lurked around her home. It was almost like a ghost following her. She threw on her work clothes with an overwhelming need to leave. After getting in the car, she reached for her cell phone. Simra dialed the police station. An officer answered the phone, and she explained her reason for calling. “My ex fiancé has been missing for a year. His name’s Tristan Azazel, and he's been stalking me.” She described the strange incidents and letters he resent. Simra gave the cop her information. “Thank you, Ma’am. We’ll check on it and will call you back if we find anything,” the cop replied. “Thank you.” Simra hung up the phone with some relief washing through her. If they didn’t find anything, she would still search for answers. She couldn’t continue living like this. Perhaps only her reckless imagination teased her. Surely he wouldn’t disturb her after so long. Maybe her troubled memories played tricks on her mind. Trying to forget about it, Simra walked into Reece Alzheimer’s Care Facility. She couldn’t wait to see her grandmother, who lived at the home. Nodding a silent hello to the employees, she smiled at the patients before stepping into her office. She grabbed some paperwork, walked out, and clashed into….Tristan! The documents scattered across the floor along with her emotions. “Tristan? No. Wait. You’re not Tristan.” This man could pass for ex-fiancé's twin! Was she imagining things again? His spiked up dark hair was a little lighter than Tristan’s. The man’s oceanic eyes reflected concern rather than a hint of possessiveness. He towered over her and caused Simra’s knees to weaken. This man stood much taller than Tristan. He also wore a long white coat and blue scrubs. “Are you a new doctor here?” She asked. Her throat went dry from the similarities. Simra blinked several times to be certain her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her. There were already too many strange occurrences today, and they didn’t need to happen at work. She had to focus on her job. The doctor offered his hand as his eyebrow lifted. “Hi. Dr. Zach Hanley. Yes, I'm a specialist in neurology. I'm from the hospital. Your name?” His studious gaze reached deep into her eyes. She helped him pick up the scattered paperwork. Simra thanked him when he placed them together for her. “Simra Reece. Nice making your acquaintance. I’m one of the owners here. How are the patients today?” He gave her a familiar smile, one that sent shivers of fear and delicious warmth down her spine. “They’re doing well. I’m more particularly concerned about Lucinda Reece; however.” Simra felt the blood rush from her face. Her grandmother was her entire world, and she would die to protect her. “She’s my grandmother. What’s wrong?” “The Alzheimer's is getting to her fast. It was caused by someone - something terrible. I'd like to discuss many things with you about her lengthy illness as soon as possible. I'm afraid we don't have much time.” Simra's heart dropped. "What are you talking about?" She controlled a tear from falling. Simra caught a glimpse of her grandma coming out of her room. Dr. Hanley spoke of someone or something causing Lucinda's illness. How was that possible and who was this guy? Her grandmother no longer remembered her granddaughter. However, Simra would risk her life to protect her. She would make certain Lucinda stayed alive as long as she could. She’d never allow God to snatch away the only parent she had left! Hadn’t He taken enough away from her? Simra fought back tears at the thought. Her grandmother took baby steps toward her granddaughter and the doctor. The doctor placed his hand on Simra’s shoulder. “You're in danger. I can protect you.” Pulling away from him, she hovered over her grandma to keep her safe. “Who are you? What do you want?” He stepped closer with a deep seriousness in his eyes. “Someone caused the Alzheimer's. I can keep you away from Azazel. He's a threat to your life.” Simra kept her gaze toward him with her stomach twisting in knots. “How do you know us? Who are you? Are you really a doctor?” Lucinda stepped between them and turned to her granddaughter. Her grandmother's gaze remained fixed on the floor. “Listen to truth. Demon follow you.” Gasping in amazement at Lucinda, Simra looked past her at the new doctor. His eyes remained void of surprise as he nodded at her grandmother's response. Lucinda hadn't talked in so long…until today. Dr. Hanley stepped closer. “Yes. Trust me. I know what’s about to happen. He's stalking you, and it's only going to get worse. You're in danger. The cops can't keep you safe, but I know how his mind works. I know a safe place for you to hide from him.” Simra’s wild heart thudded when Lucinda turned to him with a tender smile. Dr. Hanley stalked Simra too. There was a connection between him and Tristan. Were they brothers? Tristan never mentioned a brother. Then again, their last names were very different. Simra reached for Lucinda and took the woman’s hands in her own. “Grandmother, what did you mean?” Lucinda glanced down at the floor again and mumbled. Her grandmother behaved much differently since Dr. Hanley's arrival. The uneasiness of sensing Tristan around earlier still rattled Simra’s emotions. Seeing Dr. Hanley made matters much worse. Simra squeezed her grandmother’s hand before turning to the young doctor. “Dr. Hanley, please leave. I'd appreciate it if you and Tristan stayed out of our lives. I’m taking her to bed now.” Zach observed them until they got to Lucinda's room. “Azazel is evil, Miss Simra, and you'll require my help very soon. Your stunning beauty's just like that of your grandmother's. However, your obstinacy like hers could later get you in much trouble with Azazel.” A hot blush burned Simra’s cheeks as she escorted her grandmother toward the room. How did he know so much about them? They couldn’t escape him fast enough. The doctor reminded her of Tristan too much. Dr. Hanley seemed to believe he was much too clever. Helping Lucinda sit on her bed, Simra took a seat beside the woman. She placed an arm around her grandma. “Grandmother, I don’t understand what you meant. I’m not so fond of that doctor, but I’m glad you’re having a good day. You actually spoke to me. This brightened my day.” Giving the woman a kiss on her soft cheek, Simra gave Lucinda a warm smile before leaving. She never imagined her grandma would have this horrible illness. Returning where she left Dr. Hanley, Simra scanned everywhere for the doctor. The man disappeared. She continued searching the entire home and found him nowhere. Someone couldn’t vanish that fast. She didn’t stay with her grandmother but a few seconds. Simra tried to shrug off the disturbing events of the morning. She took a quick look at her employees to see everyone doing their jobs. There was still no sign of Dr. Hanley. Simra tried to resist remembering his and her grandmother’s words. What did they mean? Eager to know how her grandmother managed over the night, she stepped up to one of the nurses. A smile widened across Simra’s lips. “Hi, Bonnie. Did any of the night nurses mention changes in Grandmother over the past few hours? Her behavior’s been a little strange. You noticed?” The older nurse returned her boss’s smile. “Hi, Miss Reece. Yes, I know, she’s been behaving in an odd way since the early hours of this morning. I was about to tell you. She became combative earlier and tried hitting another nurse. Ms. Reece tried running away from the building. She’s never done anything like that before today. Then, she began smiling a lot and mumbling to some sort of imaginary friend. Ms. Lucinda’s illness is progressing faster than anyone we’ve ever seen. It worries us.” Searching Bonnie’s gaze for more answers, Simra fought the tears misting her eyes. Was all this because of the doctor and Tristan? “I don’t understand why it’s getting to her so fast. Did anything trigger her to become combative or try to run away from the home?” Bonnie lifted her spectacles higher on the bridge of her nose. “Nothing happened to cause it. She was alone in her room. Ms. Lucinda just got up and rushed to get out of the home. No one upset her. She has all the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. I’ve never seen the disease take over someone so quickly in all my years working with these patients.” Dr. Zach Hanley’s words repeated in Simra’s shredding mind. Impossible. A person couldn’t have done this to her grandmother. Simra nodded at Bonnie and still wanted to dig for a rational explanation. “Yeah. Maybe she’s only more sensitive to this disease than others. It’s probably working on her faster.” Bonnie dipped her head in agreement. “Perhaps you’re right.” “Thanks for telling me this, Bonnie. I’m going to check on her again.” The nurse gave her boss a warm smile and went back to work. Walking into her grandmother’s room, Simra ached for answers. Lucinda rocked back and forth on the edge of her bed with her troubled hazel eyes shifting. Facing the mirror in the room, Simra’s eyes matched Lucinda’s. Reaching for her grandma’s hand, Simra squeezed it with affection. She died a slow death inside to see Lucinda’s pain. “Grandmother, what is it?” Both of their lips trembled when the temperature dropped several degrees in seconds. Muddled words stammered from Lucinda’s lips. Simra wrapped a flannel blanket around her grandmother to keep her warm. She almost stumbled backwards when her grandmother bolted up with clenched fists. Lucinda's gaze turned into a glare of fire. Her grandmother clasped her fragile hands on Simra’s shoulders and tried giving her a rough shake. Lucinda's screams pierced her ear drums. “Break up! Break up! Leave him!” Stepping away from Lucinda, Simra allowed the nurses to rush in and calm her grandmother. With her hand covering her own mouth, Simra rushed down the hall into her office. She needed time to think and sort out everything. The new doctor must have triggered this reaction from Lucinda. Something horrible was happening, and Simra needed answers. Lucinda never behaved this way until that new doctor arrived. Her grandmother warned her about Tristan when they began dating, but Simra refused to listen. The same painful regret drove Simra more onto the edge of insanity each day. She never got the chance to make it up to Lucinda. Now was too late for Lucinda to realize. Tears flowed down her cheeks. She relished the silence of her office. Simra placed her head in her hands and sobbed. Never did the guilt devour her like it did today. Her grandmother might die soon if Simra didn’t do something. Simra needed to do something fast! God stuck the needle in Simra’s weak body and twisted with great strength. Why’d He take so much away from her throughout her life? What did she ever do to Him? Oh I must get myself together here and stay strong for Grandmother. She needs me. Simra dried her tears and applied a fresh coat of makeup. A soft knock tapped at the door. Raking her lean fingers through her blonde tresses of hair, she stood up to answer. “Yeah, come in.” Her hands clenched by her sides when Dr. Hanley came into the room. “I heard what happened to Lucinda.” Not you again. “I told you to leave, Dr. Hanley.” He closed the door behind him, stepped closer, and placed his hand on her shoulder. “Please call me Zach. I realize how difficult it is for you, but God's here to help you. There are other evil forces, like Azazel, who have caused you pain.” She pulled away from him. Memories of Tristan and who he seemed to be in the beginning flooded her raging senses. The doctor’s ways of reading her thoughts mystified her. “I don't need your sympathy.” He gave her a solemn stare. "Maybe you don't need my help, but God’s always here for you. It’s not your fault why this happened, and Lucinda isn't upset with you. I know what your grandmother told you. Believe me about her. The Alzheimer's is getting to her a bit fast, don't you think? Azazel placed a dark curse on her long ago. He's dangerous and evil. I know him well, and you should take precaution. He's coming after you. God wants to protect you because He loves you.” Feeling her face burning hot with rage, Simra pointed to the door. “Leave!” The buzzing of her cell phone caused her bones to twitch. Tristan’s number blinked across the screen, and her heart dropped. He hadn’t called her in a long time. He probably was at her house earlier. Now she would have the answer she sought with such desperation. Fire reflected in Zach’s eyes when he turned to leave. “Always a nuisance.” Simra picked up the phone with her hand trembling. “Yes?” A strange man’s blunt voice on the other end caused her body to stiffen with dread. “Hello, Miss. Dis Quint. Your man, Tristan, killed himself dis morning. He owed me money. I found your number in his phone. You are to give tha’ money to me. If you tell tha’ cops ‘bout dis, you and your grandmamma will join him.” Suddenly, Simra saw all the precious memories she had with Lucinda flash before her eyes. Her grandmother's life was in her hands. Simra's body quaked. Lucinda needed protection more than anything right now! Chapter 2 “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” -Jeremiah 29:11 Slamming the front door shut upon arriving home, Simra turned the deadbolt. She pressed her back against it and closed her eyes. The entire day caused her to feel sick. All the chaos never stopped. She needed to find more information on Zach and if Tristan was really dead. Quint could be lying, and her ex could have asked him to call her for a scare. Then, what about the strange occurrences this morning? What about Dr. Hanley and Lucinda’s odd behavior? Tristan’s ghost seemed to lurk around all day. Something about Tristan Azazel was evil or from another world. Shivering from the thought of being haunted by him, Simra reached for her cell phone. Her cousin didn’t come to work for the past few days. The cops couldn’t be of any assistance, or Quint might come after her. Mandy should know what to do. Mandy answered Simra’s call with a hoarse voice. “Yeah?” “Mandy, I’m caught in a horrible incident, and I’m not sure what to do.” Simra described everything that happened from the time she awoke. “Don’t you find all of this a little odd?” Silence settled between them before Mandy spoke. “Cousin, you should call the cops. I haven't been informed of that neurologist. No one told me, but I haven’t been at work for a while because of my pneumonia. You really believe Tristan’s ghost is after you? I know the man’s insane and possessive of you, but come on, Simra. A ghost? Well, I guess I shouldn’t put anything past Tristan Azazel.” Simra’s head pounded with racing emotions. “I know this sounds crazy, but what else could it be? There’s no other explanation. I can’t call the cops. Quint will know. I believe he’s watching me. Remember the love letters Tristan sent me a month ago? I trashed them as soon as I got them.” “Well, the letters just reappeared in my house recently. I never gave him a copy of my house key. So how else did he get inside the place? He swore I’d be his…always and forever.” She shuddered at recalling his last words. “Sim, you know Jeff Theron, our best friend from college came into town today, right? Well, he's a brilliant private detective now. Jeff's been living in Dallas but is considering returning to Longview. We should contact him about this, you think? Tristan and Quint won’t know. Jeff could find out if your ex’s really dead, discover the body, and catch Quint. You’re so stressed right now that you might be imagining things. Stress can do it to people sometimes.” Excitement flushed through Simra to know the three best friends would be reunited. It had been too long! “He's in town? Oh that's fantastic! We should all get together. Call him, and call me right back. If possible, I’d like to meet him about this tonight. I don’t want to end up dead like Mom, Dad, and Grandpa. You and Grandmother need me.” “You won’t, Cousin. I’ll never understand how that strange and fatal car accident killed Uncle Steven and Aunt Adrienne. You were too young to lose your parents. And I still don’t understand how Grandpa died from a heart attack. He was so healthy. I promise to keep you safe. Hang in there.” Mandy gave Simra her word before they disconnected. Tears misted Simra’s eyes when her greatest pain drowned her senses. What about Lucinda? Her grandmother’s precious life mattered more to Simra than her own. Stifling a deep sob, she removed the high heels from her throbbing feet. No, Simra refused allowing God to take anyone else from her! The cell phone buzzed on the table. Her body froze like a block of ice. Simra picked it up and gasped. Tristan’s name blinked across the screen. She dared to answer as chill bumps bit into her arms. “Quint?” Static crackled and faded on her cell until the person disconnected the call. There was the light scent of smoke again. I’m really starting to lose my mind now. Either I’m delusional or this is a nightmare. Tristan called her from the darkness of the bedroom. “Come, Princess.” Her racing heart leaped to her throat, and she gasped in disbelief upon entering the room. He sat on the bed with a zealous smile. “Tristan, I thought you were dead! How’d you get in my house? Leave. Now.” His wicked but charming smile stirred all the unbearable memories with him she tried to forget. “I’ve come to be with you, Baby. Always and forever. Our moments together are just beginning.” His possessiveness caused her to shudder. She pressed her lips together. The notification of a text message buzzed from her phone, and she read it. A message from Mandy stated: JEFF WANTS TO MEET US AT MY CHURCH AT 8PM TONIGHT. THEY’RE HAVING A VALENTINES DANCE. SEE YOU THERE. Tristan bolted from the bed, and his fanatical smile turned into a monstrous frown. “Leave your high school and college sweetheart out of this. And stay away from my deceitful brother. They’ll only tear us apart.” Jeff was never her boyfriend and she had tried to convince Tristan countless times in the past. Her insides jolted with rage and fright. He eavesdropped on their entire conversation! Simra clenched her fists. “You have no brother! At least you never told me about him. What else are you hiding? We’ve been torn apart for a while now, Tristan, and you caused it. Go home, and don’t come back!” She would get answers tonight. Tristan snatched her toward him when she turned to exit the room. His cold whispers against her ear sent shivers of dread down her body. “Dr. Hanley’s my brother. He wants to kill your grandmother. Zach’s dangerous. And I’m watching you, Princess. Every move.” Turning to shove him away, she almost stumbled when she found no one there. Was she dreaming? Or had she gone completely mad? Searching the entire house for Tristan, she found nothing. More tremors slithered up and down her spine. Perhaps he did commit suicide, and his ghost returned to possess her. Unless she dreamed everything, nothing else could explain these disturbing incidents. Maybe Mandy was right, and stress caused her to imagine things. Ghosts weren’t real. Simra needed to be on guard with Tristan and Zach. She must tell Mandy about what just happened! Grabbing a dark red jacket to wear to the dance, Simra also grabbed the car keys with her trembling hands. She couldn’t stop her maroon Honda Accord’s tires from squealing out of the garage. She had to get out of that house. There were no longer any moments she felt alone. The feeling of someone watching her all day exhausted her. Simra tensed after realizing it had been years since she walked into a church. Arriving on time, she parked her car beside Mandy’s vehicle. She walked inside the large fellowship hall. The soft romantic music loosened her shoulders somewhat. The colorful flashing lights swirled in waves as couples danced beneath them. Love and adoration glistened in their eyes. Other men and women sat on couches against the wall and drank pink punch from their clear glasses. Her heart stung to remember how happy Tristan made her in the beginning. He destroyed what they had. No other man would ever have her heart. She’d never love anyone like she cared about him. Fighting back tears, she squared her shoulders with determination. Simra shifted her focus on the present. Aromas of roses and cinnamon candles tickled her nose with delight. She made her way through the crowd of people smiling at her. “Earth Angel” began playing and caused her body to sway with the rhythm. This was always one of Lucinda’s favorites. It must’ve had something to do with her grandparents’ young love. Someone’s familiar voice caused her heart to hammer like a wild thunderstorm. “Lucinda?” Simra turned and her breath caught in her throat when Dr. Hanley gave her a surprised look. She studied his spiked hair and midnight blue dress shirt with black slacks. Simra didn’t even dress for the occasion. She probably appeared slack to him. Oh, her knees were wobbling! She refused to be affected by this man. He was evil like his brother. “Why’d you say Grandmother’s name like that? And what are you doing here?” Was he stalking her like his brother? The doctor also seemed to know about the call from Tristan’s phone earlier. She needed to either get a grip or wake up! The lights painted the doctor’s face in brilliant shades. Zach’s gaze shifted around them and looked at her again. He appeared lost there for a moment. Taking her hand in his gentle and smooth grasp, he kissed its top. “Simra, I meant to say you have the same features as your grandmother. I was invited here tonight by a friend of the church. Let’s start over and talk about this. I realize we began on the wrong foot. Allow me to make it up to you. May I have the honor of sharing this dance with you?” This might be a way to find out more information. A part of her was frightened of him. Nevertheless, a bigger part of Simra felt strangely safe with him. Besides, how could he harm her in such a large crowd? “Are you following me, Zach? Why do you linger around me and my grandmother so, and how’s Tristan your brother? I’ll dance only for a few minutes. Then, I must find my cousin and friend.” He pulled her into his arms to dance, and his enchanting familiar eyes stirred unwanted emotions in her. “I’m not like my brother. He has evil plans. I was sent to stop him, and I need your assistance to do this. I’m here to see your grandmother for a different reason other than what he told you.” Her body flowed in perfect harmony with him, and time stood still. Her pulse quickened with every movement. “Then what do you want with us? Do you and Tristan have a different dad? Is that why you have separate last names?” Zach’s touch melted Simra like warm honey. “We did have the same Father many, many years ago. Then, he chose someone else to obey and a different path. That’s when everything changed. I’m not going to kill your grandmother. God sent me to collect her soul when she dies from my brother’s curse. I’ll send her to Christ. You must understand. Azazel lies, and you shouldn’t believe his tricks.” He squeezed her hand with affection. “It’s a long story to explain why he and I have different last names. Azazel is one of the fallen angels or a demon. I chose not to follow his dark master. Today’s been a bit strange, you think? This isn't a dream. Everything’s real. God sent me to stop Azazel from wreaking havoc. I need your help to destroy him. He’s gone too far this time.” She withdrew from him with haste, and her cheeks burned with heat. “You must be insane! You’re not doing anything to my grandmother. I’ll make sure of it! You and your brother stay away from her or else. How do you read my every thought?” Her body melted with a soft fire when he stepped closer. He lifted her chin with his finger. “Your grandmother’s dying because of Azazel. I’ve only come to deliver her soul to God after she dies, not kill her. How could I murder such an innocent and beautiful child of God? That’s something Azazel wants to do. That’s why he cursed her with this disease.” Zach framed her face with sincere concern. “He wants to destroy all who love you and are protecting you. Azazel has evil plans for you. You have such a pure mind and can’t imagine his plans for you and Lucinda. Angels see many things, but God knows all.” He dropped one hand and kept one resting on her cheek. “The Lord didn’t commit these horrible tragedies in your life. He brings nothing but peace, not evil. We must stop Azazel before it’s too late. I’m here to help you. Visit your cousin and friend now. You’re the spitting image of Lucinda when she was younger. This song and our dance reminds me of many memories we shared. Thank you for giving me the honor, earth angel.” Simra’s skin became clammy and numb when he left her with a smile. ”Stay away from her!” She watched him disappear into the crowd. Thousands of questions overwhelmed Simra about him, about his brother, and especially about Lucinda. Simra's curiosity did increase when Lucinda first met Tristan. She claimed she knew things about him and begged her granddaughter to end it. Her grandmother swore she'd never tell Simra how she knew about Tristan so well. Simra just needed to trust her. Lucinda also acted as if she knew about Zach. However, her grandmother seemed too comfortable around him. No, what was she thinking? Impossible! Whoever heard of angels and demons taking the form of humans? Somehow, these two freaks were reading her thoughts. But how? Lucinda must be protected. This ‘angel’ should not be trusted. A man’s arms hugged her from behind, and Simra jerked around to slap Zach. Instead, her hand froze when she saw the bold stranger. She launched into the man's arms with excitement and for security all at once. “Jeff!” Jeff chuckled with a glass of pink punch in his other hand. “Loosen up, Sim. You’re so tense. It’s great to see you! It’s been forever. Grab a drink and sit beside me and Mandy on the couch over there.” Simra tried to find Zach in the crowd, but he vanished. She placed a strand of hair behind her ear. “We miss you so much. I’ll pass on the drink, but let's catch up with each other.” Mandy stood from the couch to hug her cousin. Her six-foot height towered over Simra. “You all right, cousin? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Simra tried to hide her uneasiness. “You can’t imagine the things I’ve seen today. Feeling any better tonight?” Fidgeting, Simra took a seat beside her cousin and friend. Could Mandy and Jeff see Zach and Tristan? Lucinda did. If Zach was an angel, how did she feel his touch? His caress melted her like hot caramel, unlike the frigid contact with Tristan. Mandy leaned back on the couch with her legs crossed. Her cropped burgundy hair gleamed in the crimson lights. “Sim, there’s a rational explanation for what's happening. Let’s talk about it so we can figure it out. I’m doing much better and am returning to work on Monday. "I love how both of us own the business. When one of us is sick, the other takes care of things around there. I couldn’t do it without you. Next week will be much better. I'll be there to have your back. We'll see how Tristan likes that.” Mandy’s lips widened into a quick smile, and she winked at Simra. Jeff sipped his punch and glanced from Simra’s cousin to her. “So it’s been forever since I’ve seen you, Sim. What’s the news?” Simra's only hope was to introduce Zach to them. Only then would they not believe she'd lost her mind. “You and Mandy talk often?” Jeff grunted, and Mandy bit her lip in hesitance before she answered Simra. “Well…yeah, we’ve been in contact recently.” Simra couldn't control a smile from crossing her lips. It was obvious. Her cousin and Jeff were dating. That explained why he considered returning to Longview. They were perfect together. Simra beamed and forgot her own troubles for a brief moment. “You enjoy working as a private detective, Jeff?” His bashfulness faded away with a firm look. “The job’s very demanding and dangerous, but I love it. Dallas is full of illegal activity because of the city’s massive size.” His rigid expression changed into a quick smile. “I do still find time for fun now and then. You know me. However, I’m considering moving back here. It’s less stressful, and Dallas isn't home. Tell me more about your involvement with Tristan and what’s been going on lately.” Simra's excitement about Jeff and Mandy's relationship vanished at the mention of her ex. She told him about the recent events but left out the possibility of seeing ghosts. Quint was the first person she mentioned. “Tristan and I dated for six months and were engaged a year. His jealousy isolated me from everyone after he proposed. Even after I broke it off, I haven't felt safe. I didn’t discover his cruel secrets until the last year. "He made himself seem so perfect at first, and he made me very happy. Then, I found out he sold drugs for a living later. It's a mystery how the cops never suspected or caught him. It's like he knew precisely how to fool them. No one can deceive and manipulate a person the way he does." Simra searched for Zach without finding him and remembered what he said. "It's almost like Tristan's a demon." She pleaded with her friend. Not even Zach could be trusted. "Please send someone to keep an eye on our grandmother day and night. Quint's a major threat. Tristan’s brother is also posing as a neurologist. Zach Hanley's threatening to take Grandmother’s life.” Mandy turned to Simra with reassurance in her eyes. "No worries, Sim. Just point that scoundrel doctor out to me at work. We'll have the cops arrest him right away for making such horrible threats. We got it all under control. I'd like a word with the crazed lunatic before he's sent to prison though." Simra felt somewhat better, but she sensed none of this was under their control. They needed someone or something powerful to protect all of them. She just didn't know who or what it would be. God wouldn't do it. He didn't protect her parents or grandparents for certain. Why should she trust Him to protect her and her loved ones now? Simra caught sight of Zach giving her a slight frown in the far corner. She grasped Jeff's shoulder and pointed to the doctor. "There's Tristan's brother! He's that tall guy in the corner. He followed me here to tell me his plans." Jeff and Mandy both stood and looked where she pointed. Jeff's gaze searched as if he didn't see him, but Zach was still there. "I don't see anyone. Describe him." "Yeah, I don't either. Where is he?" Mandy replied. Simra's blood began to run cold. "He's really tall and has Tristan's features." Mandy and Jeff glanced at Simra and looked at where she stared once again. Mandy turned and placed her hand on Simra's shoulder. "Sim, are you all right? You're not seeing ghosts again tonight, are you? There's no such thing." Jeff turned to them with questioning eyes. "Ghosts?" Mandy gave him a sympathetic look. "She believes she saw Tristan's ghost today. I'm starting to wonder if Tristan traumatized her. She just hasn't been herself since he did all that damage." Various emotions filled Simra. Rage, fear, sadness, and confusion made her want to scream on that crowded dance floor. There were still many buried dark secrets. One thing was certain. Simra and her family were in great danger. She didn't just imagine that threatening phone call from Quint. Chapter 3 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16 Simra's body grew stiff the longer she gazed at Zach. People walked all around the man without appearing to notice him. Most of them acknowledged Simra, Jeff, and Mandy with warm smiles. Zach, on the other hand, was invisible. But how could she and Lucinda see him when no one else did? Simra wasn't losing her mind! Lucinda saw him too, and Quint really did call to threaten them. That's what Simra needed to do. Prove to Jeff and Mandy about Quint. Then, at least they would believe her about something. Simra handed Jeff her cell and showed him the recent calls from Tristan's phone. "You might think I'm making up seeing Tristan and Zach. But I have visible proof that Grandmother and I are in danger. That's where Quint called me from Tristan's phone making the threats today. If you don't do anything about it, I will. I don't care if I have to get myself killed to do it. "I'll hunt Quint and Tristan down to end their reign of terror before I lose anyone else. Grandmother's going to be kept safe. Believe what you want about me. Either you're with me or not. But I'll warn you about feeling guilty for years if you don't help. You might wake up one day to hear that Grandmother and I got killed by an unknown assailant." Mandy's eyes widened. "Sim!" Jeff studied the number on Simra's phone with a stern expression. "I believe you, Sim. I promise to keep you, Ms. Reece, and Mandy safe. The duration and frequency of these calls proves something's shady. What else can you tell me about this guy other than he's a drug dealer? "Please also give me the type of phone Tristan has and with what company. I'm going to find out Quint's exact location. Then, I'll gather evidence against him and have him arrested." Mandy interrupted, "What about Tristan?" Jeff's gaze shifted between the two young women. "I suspect Tristan's already dead." Mandy's eyes wavered with confusion. "What makes you think that?" A slight flicker of pain surfaced in Jeff's eyes but vanished in an instant. "I believe Sim's being honest about seeing Tristan and his brother. There are true cases where people see the dead. Restless and vengeful spirits never rest until they're put to rest." Jeff looked away and then turned back to them. "Besides, Tristan's phone is in Quint's possession. Quint has motive to kill him. Tristan owed the guy money. Now Quint's making threats toward Sim and her family. Why? Because Sim's probably the only person with whom Tristan was involved. "Tristan didn't associate with his family and didn't have many friends according to Sim's description of him. So to cover his tracks of murdering Tristan, Quint lies to her. He gives us a story about Tristan committing suicide. I'm also doing research on Dr. Hanley." Mandy sat back in her seat as though stunned speechless. "Everything sounds right about Quint, but it's still difficult for me to believe in ghosts." Simra sighed with frustration at her cousin but with relief that Jeff believed her. She noted his pain at the mention of spirits; however. Somehow, she'd find time to speak with him more about it. The trouble was finding time alone with her best friend. Tristan and Zach seemed to be everywhere! "Thank you, Jeff. I've never heard of Quint until he called me. Tristan never mentioned him." She gave Jeff more information about the calls and Tristan's phone. The detective reached for a small notepad in his pocket and took notes. He even wrote down Tristan and Simra's phone numbers with the duration of each call. "Yeah, I think I know what's going on here. Don't worry, Sim. We're getting to the bottom of this. I'm storing my number in your phone. Call me at any hour if something happens. This situation's very dangerous, and we should all take precaution. Even you, Mandy." "Got it," Mandy replied, still seeming not to take the matter about spirits seriously. Simra's eyes grew heavy with the need for sleep. The hour grew late, and all day had exhausted her. Her mind and body needed rest from all the chaos today. Tomorrow might be worse, and she needed to be prepared. Simra turned to the detective with her body weary from fatigue. “Jeff, it's been a long day, and it's getting late. I need to get some rest tonight and must head home. Is there anything else you need to know before I leave? And what do I owe you for helping me?” Jeff smiled at his friend until concern shadowed his face. ”Don't worry about the cost. We're family. Go home and get some rest. Remember, call me if anything happens. I'll start digging for answers tonight and in the morning. I'll let you know what I find. Just be careful, Sim." Simra gave Jeff and Mandy a tight hug. “Thank you both so much. You two be careful too. I’ll be fine. You don’t know how much this means.” Mandy squeezed her cousin with affection. "Would you at least like me to stay with you?" Simra paused for a brief moment. Perhaps that wasn't such a bad idea. Maybe Tristan and Zach would leave Simra alone if they knew someone was in the house with her. Then, Simra shook her head to object. That would place Mandy's life in great danger. Tristan might see Mandy as a threat or as someone in the way. Simra refused to think of the possible consequences. "Absolutely not. I'm fine by myself, but I'll let you know if I need you later. Thanks, cousin." Mandy exchanged worried glances with Jeff after Simra hugged them again. "Call us at any hour, Sim. We love you." "I love you too." Simra's gaze shifted to where Zach had been. He was gone. Why did he vanish so often? Simra hurried from the building and got into her car. Why did she feel safer inside the church than anywhere else? Shivers crawled down her body from the feeling of an evil presence lurking again. The feeling seemed absent in the church. Maybe it was because there were people inside. Then again, she felt the presence at work. There were people at the nursing home. She fought sleep on the way home. Simra parked in her garage, walked inside, and switched on the lights. Glancing around the house, she tried to make sure she was alone. She needed to get some rest before the brothers appeared to her again. Surely they had the decency not to bother her while she slept. Simra rushed inside the bedroom, changed into her purple silk pajamas, washed off her makeup, and brushed her teeth. She slipped underneath the plush covers of her bed. Trying to avoid seeing Zach or Tristan, she forced her eyes closed. How could Zach be an angel of God when he behaved just like his brother? Zach seemed just as "fallen" as Tristan. Becoming lost in a doze, Simra's heart stopped when Zach's concerned voice drifted down the hall. “Simra, you're not safe here.” It had to be a dream. Covering her entire body under the thick comforter, she avoided him. Simra squeezed her eyes tighter and pretended to still be asleep. This wasn't real. His voice seemed to grow closer. “This is reality. You must face it. Allow me to help you. Azazel’s coming. We can stop him if you just listen and cooperate with me.” Zach read her thoughts again! Impossible. Sliding from her bed, she followed his voice into the den. “What do you and Tristan want? Why can't you both leave me and Grandmother alone? You or God don't want to help us! You said yourself that God sent you to collect her soul. He allowed Tristan to do this to her, and He's allowing him to harass us. Get out of my head, and get out of my house!” The lamp beside the couch clicked on by itself. Zach sat in the plush emerald chair. “Yes, God does allow some evil things to happen in society but not all. These things are caused by the fallen angels and their dark ruler. Not Him. They don't realize it when they curse a mortal, but the Lord later uses their curses to a man's advantage. It makes men better and stronger individuals if they choose to accept His help. "Great is their reward if they accept His salvation. Jesus, His Son, is the answer. I need you for two important missions. One is help me find Azazel’s corpse and destroy it before he hurts you and many others. Two is tell my mortal parents to take proper precautions against him. Let me take you to them. "My mortal parents can't see me, but they can see you. My brother's dangerous, and he wants to kill them. We must stop him before it’s too late. Destroying him is the main reason I'm here. You’re the only one who can help me put an end to his madness. Then, I'll leave you alone. Until then, Azazel's a threat to me, you, and countless others.” The angel paused, and his troubled gaze shifted. "There's no more time to explain. We'll discuss this later. You're not safe here. Allow me to take you to safety where he can't get to you." Simra's heart dropped to her stomach when a loud bang and shattering glass came from the bedroom. Her nose twitched to the faint aroma of smoke again. The door to her room creaked open. Her heart pounded. Simra waited for someone to make their appearance. Silence filled the place for several seconds. No one came. Zach's eyes lit with fire. The frigid chill around them caused her teeth to chatter. She hugged herself and took steady steps toward the bedroom. Zach stepped behind Simra and reached for her shoulders. His gentle hands warmed her soul. “I wouldn't go after that noise. We both know who’s inside your bedroom. This will cause even more complications.” His nearness soothed her, and she melted beneath his tender touch. Simra shook her head of such thoughts about trusting him. She pulled away from Zach to go into her bedroom. Simra switched on the light. Her small mirror got shattered to pieces. Something Zach said must have angered Tristan. Was he there the entire time? Simra hurried back into the den to tell Zach about the mirror. She searched the entire room and found him nowhere. “Zach?” No one answered. Alarm reeled inside her, and she switched off the lamp. Although the sheer curtains were closed in the den, the city lights showered through them. They allowed her to see down the hall. Someone standing behind her caught her eye in the hall mirror. She couldn’t see how tall he was. It must be Zach. Clasping a protective arm around her, he pulled her closer. Chill bumps spread across her arms from his frigid touch raking against her skin. Zach’s presence never made her feel this way. Numbness seized her entire body when Tristan breathed a cold whisper against her ear. “Don’t trust Zach. He wants you all for himself and is a liar. You belong with me.” She almost got shoved into the glass. Tristan was pushed by Zach lunging at him from behind. The two brothers hurried after each other as quick as light traveled. Simra gripped onto the chair and gasped in surprise at their velocity. A normal human could never move at their speed. The brothers weren’t fighting but were trying to catch each other. Neither of the brothers could be trusted. Siblings always had similar personalities. Only Jeff and Mandy could be trusted during this time. Simra screamed in a wild panic when Tristan placed his hand on Zach’s head. Her ex-fiancé pinned him against the wall in defeat. She needed to get out of there but didn’t know where to go. Nowhere was safe. Chapter 4 "Say to those who have an anxious heart, 'Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you'." -Isaiah 35:4 The house phone’s shrill rings caused Simra to fall off the couch. Her rear end plopped onto the hard floor, but she ignored the throbbing pain. Simra’s desperate hands grabbed the phone on the small table beside the couch. The troubling image replayed in her mind of Tristan pinning Zach against the wall. Simra began remembering how everything went black during the moment. Something didn't feel right. Her body ached with a strange weakness she'd never felt. Her limbs quivered from it, and her skin became clammy. Was she feverish? She picked up the phone and answered in a rush. “Hello?” Lucinda’s voice quaked on the other end of the line. “Azazel’s trouble. Past done. Live for now. It’s only way to freedom. Live in God’s will, not your’s…not Azazel’s.” Simra squeezed the phone in her trembling hands as she rushed into the bedroom to change clothes. Her grandmother seemed to remember her. “Grandmother, are you safe? What are you trying to say? What’s happening to us?” Simra’s throat grew heavy from dread when Lucinda started mumbling with panic in her voice. Tristan’s wicked laughter echoed in the background. The phone slipped from Simra’s hand and crashed onto the hard floor. Simra stormed out of the house and jumped into the car. She wouldn’t dare let him harm her grandmother. Sick or not! Her tires squealed out of the driveway. She needed to make it to the nursing home before it grew too late. Perhaps Tristan was a demon there to hurt Lucinda and anyone who got in his way. Worst of all, Zach came to collect her grandmother’s soul. But why did Tristan choose Lucinda to curse? The three of them shared a dark past that Simra knew may never be revealed. Her grandmother had once forgotten her family and the ability to speak. But tonight proved otherwise. Lucinda seemed very aware of the danger around them. Someone else must have dialed Simra's number from Lucinda's room. It was impossible for her grandmother to remember any phone numbers. Something was wrong, and Simra would prevent anything from happening to anyone else she loved. Her family’s safety came first. After parking at the Alzheimer’s home, she ran out of the car. With juddering hands, she unlocked the code to get inside the building. Bonnie rushed to the door and greeted Simra with concern reflecting in her widened eyes. “Miss Reece, is something wrong?” Simra hurried past the nurse and answered her in a rush of words. “Did Grandmother just use the phone?” “I’m not certain. There’s a phone in her room, but there’s no way she remembers how to dial any particular numbers. Why?” Simra placed a hand to her own brow, shook her head, and stopped at the doorway of her grandmother’s room. “I just need to see her.” Simra stepped into the room, and her gaze stopped on Lucinda. Lucinda sat on her bed and rocked back and forth. She mumbled words Simra couldn’t interpret. The lamp illuminated a dim light in her room. Simra pulled Lucinda against her. The biting air caused her to shiver next to her grandmother. The faint aroma of smoke began to fade. Warm fog drifted from Lucinda’s lips when she breathed. Simra reached for a blanket to wrap around Lucinda. She searched Lucinda’s fragile body to see if Tristan harmed her in any way. Relief washed through Simra when she found no wounds. She pulled away from her grandma, and the cold sank its teeth into her own body. Tears filled Simra's eyes as she framed Lucinda’s face in her hands. “Oh Grandmother, please talk to me like you did earlier. What happened? Did Tristan call me from your room?” Lucinda stopped mumbling, and her shifting gaze tore Simra’s soul to shreds. Tristan must have done something to her grandmother. Simra’s scattered emotions raced. There was only one explanation. Everything Zach said began to make sense. Lucinda’s frightened gaze softened. The woman’s stiff shoulder relaxed against her granddaughter. Her grandmother stopped rocking. Lucinda's calm stare fixated on the doorway. The lamp's faint light flickered a couple of times beside her bed. Silence settled in the room until footsteps came closer…closer down the hall. Simra’s throat went dry with her breathing heavy from desperation. The tall figure of Zach stepped into the room. He closed the door behind him and walked toward Simra and Lucinda. The angel placed a gentle hand on her grandmother’s cheek. “There’s no reason to be afraid anymore. I’m here.” “Stay away from her!” Simra moved between them to protect her grandmother from him. Lucinda gave him a warm smile, stretched across her bed, and dozed into a peaceful snooze. Zach seemed to comfort her grandmother so. On the other hand, Tristan caused such chaos for Lucinda and her granddaughter. However, Simra must remain on guard at all times with both brothers. Zach might be tricking them. How could Zach and Tristan be visible only to Simra and her grandmother? Flashes of the past few hours replayed in her mind. One thing was certain. This was all very real and no dream. She'd just woke up in the same ghoulish reality as the evening before. Turning her heavy sleep-deprived eyes toward her grandma’s digital clock, she saw the flashing green numbers of 3:15 a.m. There was no reason for a doctor to come in this time of the morning. Zach probably arrived to collect her grandmother's soul. Didn't most deaths happen during the morning? No, he wouldn't have the chance! Simra pressed her lips together and stepped closer to him. She held down her voice in a hushed tone. “Leave us alone. If you want me to believe you're not like Tristan, you'll stop following me and never return here.” “I'm not following you, Simra. I arrived to calm your grandmother. Azazel came and frightened her. She needed assurance that everything would be all right. I sensed something was wrong that involved my brother. I got here as soon as I could.” Torn with what to believe, Simra sighed with frustration. She needed to stay there with Lucinda the rest of the day to make sure her grandmother would be all right. Tristan could come back. Most importantly, Simra knew Zach wanted Lucinda's soul. Her key priority was keeping her grandma safe. “You realize how difficult it is to trust you? You might be an angel. But how's it true that Grandmother’s been placed under such a hideous curse? Curses aren't real!” she hissed. Zach sat next to Lucinda on the bed with much stillness in his eyes as he gazed at Simra. “Souls, angels, demons, curses, and God do exist. Azazel's a fallen angel of death, and I’m an angel fighting for the Lord. We’re all very real, and you must believe in Jesus to survive. Trust in Him to bring you through this. “A demon like Azazel is wicked enough to place a curse on anyone who gets in the way of what he desires. I realize it's difficult to trust me since your involvement with my brother. But the fact is I’ve been sent to stop him. We’re nothing alike. Your grandmother knows this." He paused and gazed with sorrow at Lucinda. "She was his first chosen bride years ago, but he got humiliated by her rejection. So, he cursed her for it. Allow me to take you to safety. You deserve some peace after what he's placed you and your family through all these years." Simra’s senses reeled from ragged emotions, and she paced the room. “What do you mean by that? He didn't know my family. Tristan…wanted to marry Grandmother? How's that possible? He and I were engaged." Zach stood up and placed his gentle hands on Simra’s shoulders. He caused her to melt underneath his compassionate touch. “He's always known and stalked you like his prey. Azazel lured you to fall for him with his charm. He couldn't have Lucinda. But he knew she'd have a granddaughter just like her in the future. So, he waited for you. Your parents and Melton would only be in his way of you, and he knew it. So, he-” "No, no, no!" Simra pounded her fists against his chest and broke into sobs. Since the tragedies, she'd tried for years to find out what caused the accident and the mysterious heart attack. The police, doctors, and witnesses could not explain them. Her parents' car swerved off the road and crashed for no reason. Melton Reece always had perfect health. This 'angel' toyed with her mind! He'd read her thoughts. Zach probably gathered some information about Simra's family from her. It seemed he wanted to make himself look better than Tristan! All Simra could do was sob harder when he surprisingly placed his arms around her with a warm embrace. "You must stop blaming yourself. It's not your fault why they died, nor is it Lucinda's. I'm the one who let her down years ago because I didn't save her in time. I was too preoccupied with my own feelings. I let her down. I let you down. Most importantly, I let God down." He squeezed Simra closer against him. "But I'll assure you of this. I'm protecting her granddaughter with every power I have whether you like it or not." She inhaled his intoxicating cedar aroma between sobs and jerked away from him. He had the same effect on her as his brother in the beginning. She needed to avoid Zach as much as possible to keep from getting hurt again. Both angels were fallen whether Zach said so or not. "Just leave us alone!" "I'd do as you ask, but I can't and won't. Lucinda asked me to take care of you. I promised her. And I need your help." Zach's gaze turned troubled. "We should flee to safety. Now! My brother's back. He's here for you this time. Trust me and hold on to me." Simra’s breath caught in her throat when a dark shadow billowed behind Zach, and the lamp flickered. Her body grew weak again. She needed rest. But she needed to stay conscious and protect Lucinda! Tristan was back, and there was nothing Simra could do. She felt like a helpless human with sudden fainting spells. Darkness closed in on her, and she collapsed. Chapter 5 "For God's purpose for us is not wrath, but salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Thessalonians 5:9 Zach caught Simra in his arms when she collapsed. Something was wrong with her. Something caused by his brother. A curse. Zach placed Simra beside her grandmother on the bed. Azazel shadowed over him as Zach bent down. The angel turned to look into the face of his twin brother. The demon’s glowing eyes burned into his with a smoldering fury. Azazel’s hands clenched by his sides, and he squared his shoulders. The evil demon showed no fear of Zach. “I thought I told you she belongs to me, Zach. Simra doesn’t want you. She loved me first and still loves me. If you don’t leave now, I’ll bring an end to you…forever this time.” Zach tightened his jaw. “Simra thought she loved you once. You never loved her. You’ll never understand the meaning of love. You’re nothing but a demon, and her soul belongs to God. What have you done to her?” Tristan gave him a sarcastic smirk. "She'll be with me forever, whether I'm destroyed or not. Simra's staying with me wherever I go. So forget about keeping her for yourself. She's mine." Zach stormed toward his brother before Azazel could reach him and placed a hand on the demon’s head. The angel pinned him against the wall. He mumbled a prayer to send his brother into a dark slumber for a while. “Lord, thank You for giving me power and authority over demons. I cover myself, Simra, and Lucinda in the blood of Jesus. I command you, Azazel, to leave this area in Jesus's name," Zach grumbled in the Aramaic dialect. Azazel’s ragged screams filled the nursing home. The sunlight of the Spirit beamed through the room and chased away the demon. Zach nodded a silent ‘thank you’ to Him before rushing to Simra. He glanced at Lucinda, who smiled in her peaceful slumber. Simra remained unconscious. Zach took her hands in his. They were clammy. He remembered Simra eating donuts earlier, but that's all he saw her eat. Was she a diabetic? Zach left Simra with her grandmother to grab an insulin shot and glucose meter out of the medicine room. He returned without anyone noticing the extra equipment taken. Zach pricked Simra's finger and allowed her blood to trickle onto the meter. Sixty-two. She suffered severe hypoglycemia. Zach jabbed the insulin shot into her to bring her blood sugar back up. Now, he just needed to take her to the lake house before she awoke. The angel of death dared to caress the tender flesh of the young woman’s face. Zach gathered Simra close against him, and warmth ignited inside him. Her nearness captivated him as he went through the city and held her in his arms. He looked down at the sleeping beauty again and almost couldn’t resist stealing a quick kiss. Shaking off such tempting thoughts, he focused on his mission in this world. He did not return to this world to fall in love a second time. Zach would not allow himself to become distracted again. If it was wrong for him to love Lucinda, it was wrong to love Simra. He only needed Simra's assistance in stopping Azazel and communicating to their mortal parents. However, Simra must be protected so she would live to fulfill her duty. That duty was to help him destroy the demon. His heart twisted in regret. A bigger part of him wanted to protect her for another reason. He hated to admit how much she affected him. And worse, he knew how much he affected her too. She was falling in love with him. She was making the same terrible mistake as Lucinda years ago. Zach arrived at his old lake house and stepped onto the porch to unlock the door. The strong aroma of cedar suffocated him with aching memories inside the house. The old floors creaked beneath his feet. Huge oil paintings of the mountains hovered over breakable figurines of bears and wolves. Large evergreen candles stood beside the porcelain figures on wide cedar shelves. The decorations lavished the inside of the place. His parents kept it just as Zach had it before he left his mortal vessel. The scent in the house with Simra there caused his heart to ache. His past in this house with Lucinda would always haunt him. Forcing his gaze back to the young woman, he realized he must focus on his mission with her now. Zach lit the candles to bring more comfort inside the house when Simra awoke. He studied the sleeping woman after lighting them. Enduring these dangerous encounters with Azazel must have drained her delicate human body. After her lashes fluttered open, her gaze traveled to Zach. Mistrust and rage seethed from her hazel eyes. “Zach, where am I?” Remaining calm, Zach explained about protecting her. “I’ve brought you to safety so Azazel can’t get to you and hurt you. He can’t come inside my lake house. It's been protected for years. I prepared my house on the Lake o’ the Pines to protect anyone against a demon. A pastor was asked to recite sacred prayers all around the outside and inside. "I asked him just before your grandmother came from Farmerville, Louisiana. This home belonged to your grandfather's Aunt Cathleen. I bought the place when I returned in the modern days. I persuaded my mortal parents into keeping it as their camp. They kept their promise to me.” He gazed down as regret filled him. “I didn’t have the chance to tell my parents to take precaution of Azazel. He murdered my mortal vessel before I could tell them. My death was made to look accidental. I think my brother wants to murder our parents in my presence.” Simra bolted up from the chair with her hands balled into fists at her sides. “Take me back to my grandmother! Tristan might still be there. How could you leave her there with someone like him?” Zach stood from the chair. “She’s fine. You’ll be fine. I defeated Azazel and said a prayer of protection to keep him away from Lucinda for the time being. God’s protecting her for now. You can inform your cousin and the nurses of bringing your grandmother here to stay with us if you’d feel more secure. Have faith that we’ll endure this and destroy Azazel.” Simra took slow steps away from him and walked around the house. She stopped to gaze toward the yard and the shed outside the kitchen window. “Why would I want to bring her here to stay with someone who’s collecting her soul? I don’t see a lake. You certain Tristan can’t come inside this house?” He couldn't control a grin from forming across his lips. Simra seemed somewhat more trusting of him. Azazel was the cause for her mistrust. Sympathy filled Zach for the poor woman and what she endured with his demon brother. “Yes. I won’t collect her soul until the curse claims her life. I’m not doing this because I want to. There's more bad news. Azazel cursed you as well. You have hypoglycemia. You should eat healthier, balanced meals and eliminate your sugar intake. "The only time you should eat sugar is when your blood sugar drops. That's why you've been blacking out all this time. The lake’s less than half a mile down the road. As you can see, Simra, there’s a boat in the shed. All of this belongs to my parents now. I wanted give this place to them before I died because I knew we'd need somewhere safe to stay.” “Tristan killed the body you inhabited? How do you know he cursed me and that it's hypoglycemia?” The angel took a seat in one of the cedar chairs at the kitchen table. He repeated what Azazel said to him during her unconsciousness and how Zach figured it out. “And, yes. He’s the one who murdered me right after Quint killed his vessel. Azazel intended to die. He's more powerful now. God wants me to stop Azazel before many more people get hurt.” She took a seat in the chair across from him at the table. “People like me and my family have already gotten hurt. Can this curse that Tristan placed on us be removed?” “I’m not certain, but we'll see. Perhaps if Azazel’s destroyed, the curse will be as well. Again, I’m not sure,” he leaned forward in his chair, “I need your help. But you must be willing to change things within you. In return, you'll be rewarded greatly. God will bless you. You’ll have peace, love, and happiness.” Simra clasped and unclasped her hands. “I’m sorry, but I continue thinking I’ll wake up from this nightmare. None of it seems real. It’s difficult for me to believe in angels, demons, and curses.” She drew back in her seat. “Please take me back to my grandmother.” Determination seized Zach in making this stubborn woman help him. He must keep her safe so she could get the job done. The angel held his tongue from showing any impatience. “You’ll die and awaken in a real nightmare if you go back out there. Azazel’s waiting to take you. I advise you not to do that. Fallen angels and curses are as real as God and His blessings.” He paused and added, “The Lord didn’t want the darkness in this world to pass. Evil and curses are from the dark one. Some people in this world have lost their faith or gotten on the wrong path. Many dwell in darkness instead of living in Him. This is why so much darkness walks among us. Some of you allowed it into your lives and refuse the Father’s salvation.” Simra glanced away from him. The emotions scattered in her eyes after he described her in some ways. She didn’t turn her gaze toward him for several moments. “I…I…must get back to Grandmother.” “Simra, you won’t be able to go to the nursing home for a while. I suggest calling your cousin and telling her you won’t be able to make it. We have a job of our own we must do. I’m warning you. It’s about to get ugly. First, I need you to talk to my family about protecting themselves. They must be kept safe from Azazel.” A fuming rage ignited in her eyes. “I’m going to work Monday. I’m needed there, and no one can stop me from doing my job. Grandmother needs me most of all right now.” Zach leaned forward and tried convincing the stubborn woman of the danger around her. “You’ll be missing work whether you want to or not. Something terrible is about to happen. A messenger of God told me, and God knows all. Your grandmother will be fine. She can stay here with us. For now, focus on protecting yourself. We have to find Azazel’s body to burn as we recite prayers over it. The demon must be destroyed before you and everyone else you know and love is murdered.” Simra turned toward him before walking out the door. She placed her hand on her hip. “Are you trying to draw a reaction out of me? And making threats? You're acting just like your brother and wasting my time. Goodbye.” Bolting up from the chair, Zach followed Simra onto the front porch. “The only reaction I’d ever try to pull from you is happiness. I didn’t threaten you. I only warned you about what will happen.” He paused and added, “Azazel will come after you if you leave the safety of this house. I didn’t try to draw a reaction out of you. I know my brother told you lies and that he's miserable on the inside. I only speak the truth. God wants to help you through me.” Simra ran down the steps of the porch and turned to him before leaving. “I’m sorry, but I can’t trust you. Your brother tricked me in a similar way. He acted like he wanted to rescue me. Tristan turned out to be someone completely opposite. I have to go check on my grandmother.” “Simra, please…” Zach started going after her until she ran away from the house. A chill spread through him when he realized his only hope of saving many people might be lost. This innocent woman, blinded by her anger with the Lord, might be killed. A woman who left his heart weaker than the last time he fell in love. Chapter 6 "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for the murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." -Revelation 21:8 The breath of roses and gardenias embraced Simra with their sweet aroma in Zach’s yard. No vehicles were parked at Zach's home, which mystified her how he brought her. Moonlight glistened onto what appeared to be a road through the thick trees ahead of her. Simra ran as fast as her legs could go down the dirt path. She had to get to her grandmother to see if she was all right. Simra reached for her phone inside her pocket and sighed with relief when she found it. Mandy or Jeff needed to pick her up when she discovered where she was. She made it to her destination with her fists clenched in frustration. This was no road. Instead, it was the lake shimmering beneath the radiant full moon. Simra couldn’t chance going toward the house again. She might run into Zach. Tristan’s furious voice startled Simra from behind and caused her heart to drop. “What've you been doing with my brother?” She shook her head and rubbed her eyes in multiple attempts to wake herself up from this nightmare. Simra kept opening them to face the man she couldn’t forgive standing by the shore. “What happens in my life's no longer your concern. You and I are done. Get over it. Face facts about yourself and life, or you’ll be miserable forever. I don’t and never will love you in a romantic way again.” His balled fists trembled when he inched closer to her. “If you’re going to point out my faults, why don’t we name a few of yours? You continue dating other men behind my back and lying to me. You’re also much too dependent on your precious little grandmother. We both know Zach’s going to claim her life soon.” Hearing this guy’s bickering over and over again throughout the last year of their relationship was enough. She wasn’t naming his flaws. Tristan always had delusions in his head and tried making her react in a horrible way. Drawing such reactions from her seemed to make him feel better since he despised hearing facts. Maybe he and Zach were different, and she didn’t wish to hear facts from the angel. The longer she spent running from Tristan and Zach began to prove how this couldn’t be a nightmare. She stepped away from the guy. How she pitied him! “I’m not getting into this absurd dispute with you again. I never dated anyone behind your back and didn’t list your faults. I’ve tried to help you before, but you refused it. You and your brother will stay far away from my grandmother if you know what’s best for you. Leave me alone.” Mandy's words haunted her wounded heart. In most cases, a jealous and possessive man is guilty of dating other women behind your back. He stepped in front of her the second she turned to walk away from him. “You’re right, princess. We shouldn’t argue, but you shouldn’t trust my brother. I’ll do nothing to hurt your grandmother-unlike him. Zach’s attempting to claim her life. He wants you to believe I'm a demon so you’ll hate me. My brother’s trying to make you believe he's an angel of God. But he’ll eventually lead you into worshiping evil.” Dread suffocated her as she took unsteady steps away from him. “Stop lying to me. I know both of you are out for her blood. You’re both evil. Let me pass.” Tristan pulled her by the arm. His determination to keep her remained persistent. “Zach wants to get on your good side first. He murdered me and brought you to his house for horrible reasons. My brother’s going to kill you and your grandmother. He wants you to believe I’ve cursed her. There’s no such thing. You know that. I know you’re angry at me, but we can stop him…together.” She didn’t know what or whom to believe. Simra stepped away from him but soaked in the information he gave her. “I’m doing nothing with you. I must’ve been right about him. He’s like you-wants to get on my good side first. I’ll stop both of you. If you or Zach dare lay a hand on my grandmother, you’ll regret the day you ever met us.” Tristan pulled her close. His cold lips devoured hers in a kiss. Simra jerked herself free and stormed away from him. Flashes of their past relationship invaded her torn senses. Her ex-fiancé’ didn’t give up and appeared in front of her to stop her in the blink of an eye. She felt the blood drain from her face at his horrifying speed. Simra stumbled backward and restrained a scream when she gazed up. Zach towered over her on the sandy shore. The angel’s fierce stare pierced into Tristan. Zach balled up his fists at his sides. Shivers crawled up and down Simra’s spine. Zach never appeared as heroic as he did now. But he wasn’t someone she could ever date. The angel and his brother shared too many physical and emotional qualities. Besides, Zach wanted to collect her grandmother’s soul. Maybe the physical similarities between him and Tristan caused her heart to be weak. Tristan chuckled with sarcasm. “Missing her, brother? Neither of us missed you. We were both just leaving the little hideaway you picked out for you two.” “Leave her alone. Everyone refuses listening to your lies. You should go on ahead to the lake of fire now. You’ll be destroyed soon anyway,” Zach grumbled. Tristan frowned with dark shadows painted across his pale face. “She doesn’t wish to be with you, and you won’t be destroying me anytime soon. Be careful who you threaten, dear brother. You might be sent back to heaven very soon by me.” Zach towered over Tristan, and his bold gaze stabbed into the demon without any fear. “Simra didn’t ever love you and never will love you. She only thought she loved you once. You won’t ever know the meaning of real love. You’ve never experienced loving anyone.” Simra continued walking backward and observed the two feuding brothers. She stumbled into the sand when her ex-fiancé’ lunged for Zach. Tristan caused him to move away before the angel gripped his brother’s shoulder. Zach pinned him against a tree. Her ex-boyfriend slipped away from his brother only to charge at the angel from behind. Tristan tried to place a hand against Zach’s head. Simra loathed the heavy concern spiraling through her aching heart. She stepped toward the demon until Zach spun around. The angel pinned him to the ground and mumbled an unknown language over him. Zach was getting the best of Tristan, and Simra broke into a mad run up the dirt road. She passed the house again. Wild goose bumps spread across the back of her neck. The angel described the way she felt about his brother in such an exact way. How could Zach know so much about her, what she felt, and what she thought? He probably knew she had a weakness in her heart for him! There were no other houses on Zach’s road. Simra panted hard from running so fast and such a long distance. Her lungs throbbed from such intense breathing. She didn’t stop until she reached the busy road. Simra leaned against a tree to catch her breath. The awakening of a Texas dawn hovered in the distance. The day might not be survived. This wasn’t a dream for certain. The weakness, the heavy breathing, the running, and her heart pounding seemed real enough. Simra slipped a hand into her pocket to retrieve her cell phone, but her body stiffened at the sudden noise. Footsteps crunched the leaves along the side of the thicket. Zach or Tristan must have caught up before she could escape. Daring to take a small peek, she turned her head slightly. A man approached her with quick steps. His white cap was worn to the side, and he approached her with a dark scowl. “Simra Reece?” That voice sounded…so familiar. Her entire body began to quiver. “Who are you?” Pulling a gun from his pocket, he nudged it against her. “Quint. The guy you must pay. Come wit' me, or I’ll shoot.” Chapter 7 "Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe." -Proverbs 29:25 Simra tried to hide the terror spiraling through her body. She didn’t hesitate to do as Quint demanded. “How’d you know I was here? You been following me the whole time?” This would not stop her from getting to her grandmother. Tristan might arrive at the nursing home any moment to harm Lucinda. There must be another way other than bringing Lucinda to Zach’s lake house to keep her safe. First, Simra needed to escape from this thug. It wouldn’t be easy. The crook’s laugh rumbled behind her, and he pressed the hard tip of the gun deeper into her back. “You askin’ too many questions. Naw. I didn’t follow you. It might sound crazy, but I had dis vision or dream about dis place. Tha' vision led me here, and what do ya know? Here ya are. Keep walkin’, woman.” Simra almost froze in her tracks. She gasped at how Tristan might have led him there through a dream. “How were you involved with my ex?” Quint grabbed her arm and led her to a hidden dirt path leading into the woods. “Dis way. We were in tha’ business of dealing and stealing together. He killed himself before he was supposed to give me my share of tha' money for selling drugs. I took his phone after he shot himself and found ya number. I knew to find you.” Curiosity overwhelming her, Simra dared to ask him what she always wanted to know. “Did Tristan ever use drugs?” Quint laughed raggedly. “Naw. We just sold ‘em to other people. We were in it for tha’ good money. That’s all.” Selling drugs to people was the most inhumane deed a person could ever do! It only caused chaos and misery in people’s lives. Drugs made most people in society hit emotional, spiritual, physical, and financial bottoms. How could anyone want to make money in such a cruel way? They sold countless drugs to the people. Tristan even laughed about it the day she left him. He claimed so many people would risk anything for them. She scanned the thicket down the path, and they stopped near a rusted and beaten car. Now might be her only chance to escape. “Where's his body?” Quint turned Simra around at the passenger door and aimed the pistol toward her. “I’ve almost had enough of your stupid questions, woman. I’d like my money now.” Simra placed her hands above her head and backed up against the car. “You never told me how much you wanted or gave me any warning. Give me more time to obtain it, and I’ll have it for you.” Quint cocked his gun, and his eyes fueled with a hot rage. He inched closer. “I’ve waited long enough. Take me to tha’ money now. It’ll be in my hands today. Understood? Get in tha’ car.” Her weak knees wobbled. Simra’s trembling hands reached for the rusted surface of the door handle. After she turned around to open the door, her body jolted. Gunshots boomed from just a few steps behind her. She dared turning around to see what or who Quint shot. Cold tremors raced through her veins when she saw Zach shooting the gun. He pointed it somewhat away from the drug dealer. Quint stumbled backward into a tree with a low heavy limb hanging from it. The drug dealer’s eyes rolled backward, and he nodded off to sleep from hitting his head on the low branch. Simra covered her mouth with a hand when Zach stopped shooting the gun. The angel seemed to be only trying to scare him. Quint must have not seen him. Zach towered over the crook. Simra scurried away from the disturbing scene. Running into an opening of the foggy thicket, Simra never stopped to look behind her. Some of what Tristan said about his brother might be true. They were both fallen angels trying to get on her good side. Although Zach saved her more than once, he continued following her. Zach revealed signs of possession in the same ways as Tristan. She must find a way to get to her grandmother and keep her safe from all of them. The hanging limbs of trees and thorny briars tore at Simra’s skin as everything spun in circles around her. The same trees surrounded her in the long distances she ran. The pines loomed over her with their powerful scent of the wilderness. They continued reminding her of how lost she became. Simra stopped to lean against one of the wide trunks. Her deep breaths grew rough. Simra’s heavy legs ached from running so much this morning. Her throat went dry for a crisp cold taste of water. Silence settled in the depths of the forest, but the stillness indicated she wasn’t alone. Scanning the overgrowth of briars and pines, she turned around to see if anyone stood behind her. Dread rippled through her when she spotted Zach standing a breath away from her. “You! Stay away from me!” “Simra, you’re very confused and tired right now. Don’t allow Tristan’s lies to affect you anymore. My brother should be considered as the prince of lies. You know this.” Her beliefs swam in different directions, and she tried to think better. “I know that, but you following me and fighting people in such a way doesn’t help matters. Not to mention, you want my grandmother’s soul.” Zach stepped closer with a dark frown across his face. “I’m trying to protect you, and your grandmother’s dying because of Tristan. Not me. I don’t want her to die. You could’ve gotten killed had I not shown up in time. I didn’t shoot or hurt Quint but only scared him. I don’t need you in the way my brother does. All I need is your help, and you must have mine as much as I require yours.” Simra’s heart raced after he pointed the truth out to her in such an insensitive way. The deep spark he ignited within her all this time should not be there. Zach felt no passion for her, and he just admitted it. She should feel nothing for him anyway. He wasn’t human. The angel shouldn’t feel anything for her either. Her heart confused her during the moments she spent with him. The brothers were so similar, yet they seemed so different. Simra bit her lip in frustration. She hated admitting how she and her family were much safer at the lake house. Her grandmother would be much more secure in a place where only two men were a danger to her rather than all three of the guys. Everywhere else would be more dangerous than at the lake house where only Zach and Quint were a threat to Lucinda. Simra could keep an eye on her grandmother during all times. “I’m sorry, Zach. It’s just that I’m afraid of trusting you. I’ve been through so much this past year with your brother. You probably don’t understand, but it’s fine. I’ll learn to adjust. I’m so exhausted, and I realize it's safer at the lake house. I must call Mandy, and my grandmother does need to stay with us here.” Zach nodded with a slight smile and crossed his arms against his orange polo shirt. “I understand. I understand you need to let go of your troubled past. God will help you if you seek His guidance. Come. Let’s return you to safety. Call your cousin to bring your grandmother. I’m not murdering Lucinda. The curse is what’s killing her.” Simra loathed to hear this man spit such direct truths to her. She did fight letting go of what Tristan did to her all this time. Simra needed to release the past and move on. If she didn’t, it would be the end of her. Regardless of Zach’s reassurances of how he wouldn’t kill anyone, collecting someone’s soul meant the same thing. The angel of death could stop Lucinda from dying if he wanted to. Simra scanned her surroundings once more and tried to find any area that looked familiar. “I’ve no idea where we are in this thicket. I’m lost. Where’s the road?” Zach’s lips tugged into a smug grin, and an amused chuckle slipped from him. “This should prove to you that I’m nothing like my brother. You’d already be dead if you didn’t have me to protect you.” Simra gasped in surprise when he swept her up into his arms and held her close to his hard chest. Zach looked into her eyes, and the warmth of his nearness melted her soul like hot lava. Her wild heart hammered against her chest. The forest moved so fast around her and caused Simra to gasp with wonder. The sun flashed with its rays of light dancing around them. She almost didn't notice the changing surroundings. Her studious gaze remained in the eyes of the irresistible and arrogant angel holding her in his arms. Zach placed her on her feet at the porch of his house and opened the door for her. “After you.” Simra scratched her brow and tilted her head with confusion. She hardly realized they were back at the lake house. Zach’s gentle eyes captivated her during those quick magical seconds. “How’d you do that?" “I’m an angel. I can do such things.” He gestured for her to go inside the house. She never turned her eyes away from him after she walked into the house. The heavy aroma of cedar welcomed her as she sat at the kitchen table. “How’d you get rid of Tristan? You didn’t murder Quint, did you?” Pulling out a chair at the cedar table, Zach took a seat across from her. “I said a powerful prayer to dispose of Tristan until I could return you to safety. No, I didn’t kill Quint. He’s only unconscious and will continue trying to find you.” “Zach, I believe Tristan told him where to find me in a dream. You believe Quint will come to this house?” The angel leaned forward, and his eyes widened with questioning in them. “You’ll be safe here. It’s protected against all evil. Tristan can’t see or hear inside this house because of the sacred protection. He can't show Quint the house in the dream either. All he can do is show him the area of the highway. Trust me.” Zach stood to pace the floor and scratched his chin. “Call your friend, Jeff, to assist us. Maybe he can help us locate Tristan’s body.” Simra slid the phone out of her pocket and glanced at the time before calling her friend. “It’s six in the morning. I must call Mandy first and tell her to bring Grandmother here.” Dialing Mandy’s number, Simra allowed it to ring several times before her cousin answered in a drowsy voice. “Yeah?” Simra told Mandy about the confrontation with the drug dealer. She explained how Quint captured her until Zach knocked him unconscious. Simra told her cousin about how Zach kept her in a safe place where the drug dealer and Tristan could never find them. “I’d like to bring Grandmother to safety with me. Quint knows where she’s staying, and she’s in danger. He might ask anyone to go inside the home and kill her. Explain to everyone that I’m bringing Grandmother to my place for a while. This man’s dangerous.” “Oh, Sim. This is all so difficult to believe! You certain this place is safe? I hope the drug dealer doesn’t find you there. Maybe I should come and stay with the three of you.” “I realize that, but this is real. Yeah, come and stay with us. Please bring Grandmother. Zach knows what he’s doing. The drug dealer won’t find us here. I’m calling Jeff as soon as I get off the phone with you.” “Ok. Promise I will, Cousin. But please call Jeff. Where’s this place? I’ll bring Grandma this afternoon. She can stay with us during the evening and night there. We can bring her to work with us during the day. I love you so much.” Recalling where the road took her, Simra told her the exact location of the lake house. A lone tear slid down Simra’s cheek. A deep concern for Mandy and their grandmother overwhelmed her. “That's another thing. I won't be able to work for a while. It's not safe with Tristan around. I'm safer staying at the lake house. Please help me watch Grandmother at all times. I love you too.” "Got it, Cousin, I will. We'll be there in a little while," Mandy replied. Simra hung up the phone and turned her misting eyes toward Zach. “You certain they’ll be all right? What about Jeff? Are you sure Tristan can't hear us? Your brother might try to hurt him if he knows my friend’s so involved in this. You know how jealous and possessive Tristan is of me.” Zach placed his hands on her shoulders after she stood from the chair to face him. “I promise your friend and family will be all right. I think it’s best that your grandmother and Mandy stays here. Have faith. Tristan can’t hear a word we’re saying. Remember, the house is protected well against him. You’ve nothing to worry about, Simra. But believe God will keep them safe and bring you through this. Call Jeff.” Simra fidgeted with the phone in her hands and grew surprised at Zach’s last statement. The angel showed no signs of jealousy toward Jeff or anyone else. In fact, Zach seemed to want them to help and support her. Maybe he and his brother were different in every way. The charming angel of death saved her many times, but his infuriating arrogance boiled her blood. Still, she couldn’t allow him to collect her grandmother’s soul, and he must be stopped. Dialing the number to Jeff’s phone, Simra allowed it to ring until he answered in a firm tone. “Yeah, this is Jeff?” Simra explained everything she stated to Mandy and told the detective about the drug dealer's car. “I’m hiding out with Zach until you arrest Quint and find Tristan’s body. It has to be around Quint's house.” “Thanks for telling me, Sim. It’s best you don’t go back to work until all this is over. Stay hidden with Zach. I’ll search for Quint and the body right now. Be careful, girl.” “Thanks, Jeff. You be cautious too. Keep me updated on what you find, please. Goodbye.” Simra studied Zach’s reaction to her phone conversation with Jeff. She waited for the angel to dig into her with ridiculous questions about her friend. “Well?” “I’m glad Jeff’s helping us, Simra. He’s a valuable friend to have.” Simra tried to control her lips from parting with surprise at Zach’s admiration of her friendship with the detective. The buzzing of her phone caused her to flinch. Tristan’s name blinked across the screen. She shifted her eyes to Zach, and her heart hammered against her chest. “Should I answer?” “Answer.” His gaze glowered into hers like dark shadows. She bit her lower lip and lifted the phone to her ear. “Hello?” The familiar ferocious voice of Quint on the phone sent shivers crawling up and down her spine. “Woman, I’ll find and locate where you’re hidin’. I want my money. Meet me at tha’ same spot where your accomplice rendered me unconscious with a million in cash at midnight. Your grandmamma will be killed if you call tha’ police or if your ‘friend’ shows up again.” The drug dealer hung up and left Simra’s blood running cold. Chapter 8 "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." -Romans 8:28 Simra paled. “I’m calling Jeff. He needs to know about the drug dealer wanting to meet me at midnight.” She began dialing the number to the detective’s phone. The phone flew from her hands, crashed onto the hard floor, and almost shattered to pieces. Simra’s lips parted in shock, and she scanned the room as though looking for someone. Zach picked up the phone and placed it on the table. His jaw tightened. She shifted wavering eyes from him to different sections of the house. “Is Tristan here?” He turned away from her and took a seat at the table. “No. Don’t call Jeff, and don’t meet Quint tonight.” Her eyes nipped at him like a blazing fire. “You seem to have a temper. A violent one. Just like your brother.” “No, Simra. Angels move objects quicker and with more force than humans. Once again, I’m nothing like my brother. Let go of such a false concept of me. Quint might be planning a trap from what I sense. Azazel will also be involved. It’s best neither you nor Jeff meet him in this spot tonight.” She unfolded her arms from across her chest and stormed into the den. “You might not be like him in that way, but you enjoy provoking me with….with…with-” “What? The truth? The truth’s good for you.” He couldn’t control the smile tugging at his lips. “Ugh!” she plopped down on the couch and rested her face in her hands. He needed her to warn his family about the demon, but she was in no shape. She appeared so weak and tired. He must check on his family. Something didn't feel right. The angel dared stepping closer to rest his hand on her knee. “Get some rest. I must tend to a few things for the day. We might have another long night ahead of us. There’s food in the freezer and canned goods in the cabinets. You need nourishment.” Simra raised her tired eyes toward him with apprehension and mistrust in them. “Where are you going?” The angel knelt down and framed Simra’s face with gentle hands. “I apologize for how Azazel vanished all those times to do awful things behind your back. I know he did things those innocent, beautiful eyes like yours can’t even imagine. I promise I’m not doing anything of the sort. I’m checking on my family and seeing what Quint and my brother are up to now. My brother's up to something.” He paused and added, “I’m discussing things with God for a while too. The Lord will watch over you while I’m away.” Simra leaned her face into his hand but drew away from him abruptly. Her gaze shifted in the opposite direction. “I’m exhausted. I must rest now.” Zach stood up, and his gaze never left her on the couch. “There’s a comfortable bed for you in the bedroom. It’s much cozier.” Simra stood to walk into the master bedroom where white lace curtains hung from the windows. He couldn't control a smile. Zach sensed how Simra longed to thank him for everything he did for her. However, her pride got in the way. He knew how she did not wish to hear the truth-especially from him. The obvious spark in her striking eyes gave away her feelings for him. The way she clung tighter to him revealed what was in her heart. God wanted her to face her pain and seek Him. Zach would continue helping her overcome the darkness whether she liked it or not. He opened the screen door to his house and stepped onto the porch. The morning sun warmed him. The gardenias, roses, and fresh dew in the yard reminded him of when Lucinda first arrived years ago. Her determination matched that of Simra's. Everything about them was the same. It's no wonder Azazel fought so hard to marry Simra since Lucinda's rejection. Zach missed having his parents over to fry fish during the summer. Fried fish made his mouth water when he had his mortal vessel. Then, he remembered Azazel murdering him on the fishing boat. Zach frowned at how evil Azazel became. The angel closed his eyes in meditation to forget the repulsive demon. Zach then became lost in the love and innocence of God. “Father, thank You for giving me another chance to end my brother’s madness. Guide me to help this woman who needs You in her heart. But please direct my full attention on my assigned duties instead of my attraction to Simra. I know it’s not what You wish of me or her, and I wish to always do Thy will. "Give me the strength to continue this mission, and please protect Simra while I’m away to do Your will. Strengthen my heart against not making the same mistake again. Thank You, my Lord. Amen.” Warm serenity flowed through Zach and embraced him. Glorious rays of the morning sun caressed his face in the sweet air. The angel had an important duty to save lives by destroying an evil presence in the area. It must be done before much destruction came to pass. He looked up into the clear sky. God did not ease his building fascination of the beautiful, stubborn woman inside the house. The angel shook his head to avoid the expanding thoughts of her. He tried to forget how her exquisite eyelashes barely kissed her cheeks while she slept. Zach firmed his jaw and traveled through the wilderness. The woods led to the highway toward his family’s home in the far distance. He focused on his intense concern for his parents, Miles and Patricia Hanley. Maybe Azazel wouldn’t cause much trouble for them until later. Then again, having no contact with Simra might lead his demon brother to create more problems for Zach. A glass object shattered inside his parents' home after Zach made it to the large oak door. He opened the door, stepped inside the house, and eased it shut. Azazel’s raucous laughter echoed throughout their mom and dad’s home. Zach followed the voice of Miles assuring Patricia how everything would be fine. Azazel threw lamps, pictures, breakables, and chairs. His demon brother laughed at their fear-stricken pale faces. Their parents were huddled together in the corner of the room. Fury surged through the angel. Zach took no time racing toward his brother. Miles and Patricia’s terrified gazes scanned the room as if trying to spot the evil demon. Azazel turned around just in time. He laughed without a care in Zach’s face. “No one invited you, brother.” The angel pinned him against the wall and growled between clenched teeth. “No one wants you here.” Azazel raised his arm over Zach’s arms and placed a hand to the angel’s shoulder. The demon appeared on the other side of him. Zach swung around to the other side of his brother and grabbed a cross hanging on their parents’ wall. Azazel fell to his knees at the sight of the cross. His gaze pleaded with the angel. Zach pinned Azazel to the floor with the cross over the demon’s heart. The angel cried out in the Aramaic dialect. “Lord, thank You for giving me power and authority over demons. I cover myself, Miles, and Patricia Hanley in the blood of Jesus. I command you, Azazel, to leave this area in Jesus's name." Azazel’s glowing eyes widened in terror. He shoved Zach away and ran out the front door without looking back. Their mom and dad were still huddled in the corner of their trashed home. A deep ache burned inside the angel, and his parents separated from each other. Miles and Patricia looked around the house as though searching for an explanation. No human would ever believe what his parents witnessed. Zach tried to avoid believing Azazel’s true intentions of coming to their house. Patricia turned to her husband with her wide puzzled eyes. “Miles, I know those were spirits. You believe the second ghost, who held the cross and chased the other one away, was…Zach?” “I’m not sure what to believe anymore, Patricia. I never believed in spirits until now. Let’s not say anything to anyone about this, understood?” “Of course, Honey. Let’s get this place cleaned up. I hope that thing doesn’t come back for us. I wish Zach was still alive. Maybe he’d know what to do in this situation.” Zach reached out a gentle hand to his dad and mom as they hugged, but then, he realized they couldn’t see him. He was torn with his devotion to stay with his parents and to destroy the demon. Hurrying to put an end to his brother’s madness, the angel raced out of the house. The drug dealer’s whereabouts must be discovered before Azazel returned. Zach had to convince Simra to talk to his parents, and Azazel should be destroyed once and for all. The demon might come back soon to do something worse. His evil brother could murder their mom and dad if something wasn’t done fast enough. Azazel’s corpse needed to be found and burned. Now! Chapter 9 "My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; You save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies."- 2 Samuel 22:3-4 Zach's emotions swarmed in a rampant rage, and he went to seek the drug dealer. He came to an abrupt halt upon finding the thug. Quint’s car screeched from where the angel left the thug unconscious. The drug dealer drove his beaten up car into the quarters. Azazel’s dented black Dodge Charger stood in the front yard of Quint’s home. Zach raced around the area to see if Azazel’s body was there. But his brother’s corpse could not be detected. Zach tightened his fists when he realized an angel of God might not be able to detect the rotten thing due to a spell. People had countless drugs inside the house and must have bought them from Quint. Handguns, drugs, and crack pipes were all over the place. Some of the people’s eyes were so red that they appeared to be filled with blood. Their bones almost protruded from their skin like they hadn’t ate in weeks. The drug addiction killed them slowly. Several stolen vehicles crowded around the yard beside Azazel’s. Simra, Jeff, their friends, and family should never come here. Zach would make certain to keep them away unless Jeff brought plenty back up from other cops. In the distance, the angel glimpsed at a lone man sitting in a nicer car than the rest. The vehicle stayed parked on the side of the street. Zach tensed after seeing the cop. Detective Jeff Theron. Snapping pictures with a camera, the detective studied the large number of gangsters coming outside the house. The gang piled into Azazel’s old car. The angel hurried toward Simra’s friend in attempt to make him leave this dangerous place. Zach noticed Quint’s friends hiding guns in their pockets. They would shoot the cop if they knew he came alone. Jeff cranked the disguised cop car, but it didn’t get far with a flat tire. This was no place for a flat. Much too dangerous with gangsters like Quint. The drug dealer almost murdered Simra and had been involved with Azazel. Not all dope dealers were killers, but the demon’s friends were dangerous. Zach froze when the gangsters stopped beside Jeff’s car. Quint rolled down his window and confronted the detective. “You tha' police?” The angel aired up the tire with a narrow trail of strong wind seeping into the hole. The dope dealers continued interrogating Jeff. There were other plans for Azazel’s car if the detective distracted them long enough. Jeff must be kept safe for Simra. Zach could never let her down and abuse the trust she started having in him. Jeff’s bold gaze remained set on them without any fear in his eyes. “If I was, don’t you think I would’ve brought back up? I’m interested in buying some hardcore drugs. A good amount of them. You know a guy named Quint? I heard from a fellow drug buddy of mine that he sells good drugs.” Quint turned his head back in the car, mumbled something to the others, and looked back at Jeff. “Who ya friend?” “Well, I haven’t seen him in a while, but his name’s Tristan. Tristan Azazel. He sold a few of his drugs to me once, and I’d like more now.” “What’s ya name? Ya know if ya lying, I’ll kill ya? I notice ya have a flat tire. You in a bad predicament, ya know?” “Jeff. I’m not lying. I don’t want any trouble. I realize I have a flat tire. I just came to buy drugs. I want no trouble, but I’d like to find Quint. Are you Quint?” “Yeah, dis Quint. Don’t ask me no questions, got it? I do all tha’ askin'.” Jeff stared into his side mirror at his aired up tire. The detective studied the flat tire on the back of Azazel’s car. He shot his gaze back at Quint before they noticed his look of surprise. “Yeah….sorry… Quint. I’d like to buy a million dollars' worth of drugs. I can have you the money at midnight at this spot. Can you do it?” Quint turned to mumble more words to the others, and his angry gaze shifted back to Jeff. “I’ll kill ya if ya bring cops or anybody else. We outnumba' cops out here. You betta' be tellin’ me tha’ truth. I’ll shoot ya firsthand. I’ll meet ya here at midnight. Ya betta' show up wit’ it, or I’ll kill ya.” Jeff nodded and looked back at their tire and his own as though making certain he wasn’t hallucinating. “Deal. Later, guys.” He cranked up the car as they started up their own. Jeff picked up speed when they hollered and remained stuck in place because of their flat. Zach flattened both of their back tires. Shots were fired at Jeff's car, but they missed him after he spun out of the quarters. They were left with Zach in a mess. Fury ignited through the angel. Simra must have called Jeff to tell him about Quint anyway. Did she not realize she was placing them in danger? It was a trap for whoever came there! The angel stayed listening to the gang's silly ranting and raving awhile. They said nothing about the body of Azazel. In fact, they only mentioned stealing more items to buy drugs. Quint shot Azazel here. Then, the crook dumped the corpse in the woods where it was secluded. Zach saw the place in Quint's mind. He'd search for it there. Quint stayed behind from the rest of the dealers, who stormed back inside the house. The drug dealer scratched his chin and observed both flat tires of Azazel’s car. “Is dat Tristan ghost? Who Jeff?” Zach walked circles around the drug dealer, and his jaw tightened. Although the guy couldn’t hear him, the angel still threatened him. “Your fun and games in life will be over soon, you piece of trash.” Zach left the quarters in a rush to find the corpse. The angel ran through the wilderness but tripped over someone. He landed on his face in the pine straw and leaves. Azazel hovered over him with his yellow eyes gleaming. His demon brother raised him up and pinned him against a wide tree. Although he tried to escape from Azazel’s powerful grip, Zach got caught by too much surprise. The demon’s teeth clenched from rage. “Be careful, brother. Our parents are in a whole lot of danger now. I know a way to send you away forever, and I’ll do it.” A deep, dark bitterness fueled Zach as he stood face to face with evil. Yes, Azazel could send him back to heaven before Zach got the chance to torch his brother’s corpse. The angel realized how he must gather all the dying faith within him to end this demon forever. Protecting his family mattered most to Zach. And although he despised admitting it to himself, keeping Simra safe began to be his top concern. Chapter 10 "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong." - 1 Corinthians 16:13 Simra felt refreshed after cooking, eating, a shower, and cleaning the kitchen. She was ready for the night ahead of her. The meat loaf, homemade macaroni and cheese, and boiled okra caused her to fall asleep on a full stomach. Where was Zach? He'd been gone far too long. The day had been full of surprises. She discovered a journal in a drawer with her grandmother's handwriting and name. All the answers were coming together. Everything Zach said began making sense. But how did Zach and Tristan stay so young all these years? How did people not suspect something? Years ago, her grandmother came here from Farmerville. She came to search for Simra's great-grandfather. He never came back home to them. Lucinda fell in love with Zach while Tristan attempted forcing marriage with her. Zach tried protecting her, and Lucinda claimed the angel blamed himself after she got captured. However, Lucinda wrote that Zach did rescue her. She called him her "earth angel". Lucinda wrote how sad she was when Zach left and that he would always be her first true love. Zach loved Lucinda too! That's why he looked at Simra the way he did. Because they looked and acted so similar. He saw Lucinda in her granddaughter. What a creep! Both brothers were no good. The only reason Simra and her family would stay at this lake house with him would be to keep them safe. Period. After Tristan got destroyed, she never wanted to see the angel again! He hurt her grandmother, and he wanted to do the same to Simra. She would not allow her heart to be broken again! Glancing outside, she noticed the orange and pink colors of dusk hovering over the dirt road and trees. Mandy and Lucinda would arrive any moment to ease her mind. Keeping herself and her family safe mattered more than anything. The persistent ringing of her phone startled her. Drawing her hand back, she hesitated to answer. Something terrible could have happened. “Hello?” “Sim, this is Jeff. Meet me at Espresso Café tonight. They’re performing live music.” Simra gripped the phone tighter in her hands. “It isn’t safe for me to leave the lake house. Mandy will arrive any moment. I should stay.” “All right. Wait for her, but the drug dealer’s completely distracted right now. He’s very preoccupied. Listen. I found stuff out about Zach and Tristan, and I saw something today.” He paused and added, “The drug dealer will be somewhere else tonight. Promise. You’ll be safe. Mandy can come too.” “Jeff, I-“ Zach walked into the room and interrupted her conversation. “Let’s meet him. Tell him we’ll go. I’ll take you and will protect both of you.” A strained silence fell between the two friends until Simra spoke. “We’ll be there, but I have to wait for Mandy.” “Great! Be careful, Sim,” Jeff replied before hanging up the phone. Simra bolted up from sitting in the chair and placed her hands on her hips. “It’s too dangerous! Tristan’s out there and almost defeated you last time. And where have you been all day?" Zach’s eyes reflected calmness. “My parents were in trouble. I had to save them. I spent time searching for Azazel's body, but I couldn't find it. I read Quint's thoughts to see where he dumped the corpse, but the body wasn't there. Someone moved it, and I don't believe it's in anyone's house. The corpse is hidden well. Have faith you'll be protected. Seek God and trust Him. He'll protect you.” Daring to take a step closer to him, Simra pursued interrogating the angel. “How do I know what you're saying is true? And God never protected my family.” Simra’s breath caught in her throat when he inched closer and placed a few strands of hair behind her ear. “God's angels don't lie. There's evil in this world. Adam and Eve made that choice long ago for bad things to happen to mortals. Bad things will happen here, but God sent His Son to die for you. You'll be saved and have eternal life, and there'll be no more death. If you believe and trust in His Son, you'll have eternal life. There'll be no more death one day, and you'll see your family again. You should start by trusting Jesus.” The slight brush of his warm hand against the side of her face caused her heart to melt. Simra became lost in his eyes, and tears filled her eyes. “I'll see them again if I trust Him?” Zach reached his arm around her waist to pull her closer. His lips were only a breath away. “Yes.” The angel’s warm skin ignited her soul on fire when he brought her lips to his with a tender kiss. Never did her heart melt in such a way to an all-consuming kiss. It felt so true. Simra opened her eyes to see a tall figure of Tristan kissing her and jerked back in response. No, Zach broke Lucinda's heart. Simra would not allow him to do the same to her. And she kissed the angel who would collect her grandmother’s soul! “I can't do this. Mandy and Grandmother will be here any moment. I need to stop by my house and change into another pair of clean clothes. Then, we can go to the coffee shop.” A soft knock tapped at the door and drew them more apart. Simra rushed to answer it. Her heart hammered against her chest from Zach’s unexpected kiss. Simra’s lips still tingled from the soft caress of his. She could still taste his kiss, which reminded her of sweet honeysuckle. Falling in love with an angel of death was a frightening and tragic mistake. She opened the door to find her grandmother with a blanket around her. Mandy stood beside Lucinda with several bags of luggage. Simra sighed in relief and hugged them. They were welcomed inside the kitchen. “Come in. Make yourselves comfortable. Grandmother, welcome back. I’ll make sure nothing happens to you. This house is still very secure.” She framed her grandmother’s face in her hands. Lucinda studied her surroundings, and a slight smile slipped across the old woman’s face. Her grandmother’s hands grazed the furniture as though she belonged there. She seemed to feel at home. The lady mumbled unclear words to Zach, Mandy, and Simra. Lucinda paced around the house. Simra took her grandmother’s hand and followed her around the place. She couldn't help but wonder if Lucinda remembered this house. Mandy followed them around the house. “What are you talking about, Sim? Has Grandma been here before?” Simra sank into the plush couch beside their grandmother. She explained the story Zach told her. "Grandmother came from Farmerville, Louisiana to find her father. He came here years ago and never returned there. She stayed in this house to be protected from Tristan or Azazel. Azazel is his demon name. That's why he and Zach have different last names." Mandy gazed at their grandmother, who smiled and mumbled. “She does seem happy to be here, but it's still difficult for me to believe in ghosts.” Zach picked up a pillow on the couch and tossed it toward Simra’s cousin. Glowering at her, his eyes ignited into a hot fire. “That should make you believe, and I'm an angel. Not a ghost.” Mandy’s lips parted in surprise, and she gasped at her cousin. “How? How could it be? Who or what was that?” Simra couldn't control a slight giggle. “Zach. He's an angel, not a ghost. He wants you to believe in him and how this is real. He’s here to protect us against Tristan. My ex-fiancé’ is the one who’ll hurt all of us. Zach means no harm and saved my life from Quint and Tristan.” The words escaped from her lips. She had no intention of saying such good things about the angel. Simra still had her doubts about him. “What should we do?” Mandy asked in a hushed tone and took a seat on the other side of their grandmother. Simra’s cousin placed an arm around Lucinda as though protecting her. Simra exchanged glances with Zach, then back to Mandy. “Jeff wants to discuss something at Espresso Café with me. He mentioned something happening today. Can you stay here with Grandmother and keep the two of you safe? If Zach’s parents come, tell them to call me.” “What if they call the cops on us, Sim? You said this is their property now.” Zach interjected before Simra could respond. “They’ll understand completely. My mom and dad will welcome all of you here. Just explain how this house is protected from the demon who attacked them today.” Simra repeated to Mandy what Zach told her. “Just stay with Grandmother. There are three beds in the back bedroom and the master bedroom. Pick which one suits you and Grandmother the best. Zach and I must go meet Jeff.” Mandy clasped and unclasped her hands. “Wait. You said Tristan’s out to hurt you. Jeff might be in danger too.” Simra took her cousin’s hands in hers and tried to avoid the fear enveloping her own heart. By going to the coffee shop, she would place their friend in much danger. Simra had to make sure nothing happened to the detective tonight. It all started with trusting God. “I know, Mandy, but Jeff's got to help us. We’ll be fine. Zach told us to trust God, and He'll keep us safe. And Zach will protect us.” Simra placed a gentle kiss on Mandy’s cheek and squeezed her hand. “I'll say a prayer for you all, Sim. Be careful.” Simra lingered for a moment, opened the screen door, and stepped onto the porch. She turned to Zach. “Let’s get this done. I’m beginning to believe that everything will be fine.” Zach gathered her into his arms and went to Simra’s house. She observed the blurry surroundings out of the corner of her eye, but his soft stare reached deep into her. Simra savored a small taste of God’s world. She felt nothing but beauty in these moments. Splendor enveloped Simra and flowed through her. Then, she shook her head after recalling how he reminded her of Tristan sometimes. Zach was a restless angel and would not stay in this world after serving his duty to God. He'd leave her just like he left Lucinda all those years ago. But where did he go before? The angel placed Simra onto her feet in her front yard and stepped onto the patio. Zach gave her a solemn look. "I deeply regret not saving Lucinda in time. It's all my fault that she got cursed because I was distracted. I was too busy trying to sort out my feelings for her. She and I weren't meant to be. Heaven needed me, and that's why I left. I had no intentions of hurting her. I loved her, and that's why I distanced myself." Tears filled Simra's eyes. "You could've been honest with her about you and Tristan from the start. Then, maybe none of this would've happened. Now, you should understand why it's so difficult to trust you. You tend to hide things like your brother. Some angel you are." She walked away from him and went into the house. "Simra…" Zach followed after her. Avoiding Zach, Simra walked into her bedroom. Tormenting memories caused her senses to overflow. Shadows of multiple candles flickered all around the bedroom. A bottle of white grape juice glistened on the night stand beside two wine glasses. Tristan’s gift of the wooden heart, “Forever Mine”, stood beside the bottle. The heart was still there and sent chills throughout her body. She heard the faint sound of their old love song "I Crave for You" somewhere inside the room. It was the one Tristan picked out for them. The singer's eerie voice drove her to the edge of insanity. Tristan's Burberry cologne sucked her into a tormenting past of artificial love. Simra walked out and rushed into the angel’s arms. “He’s in the bedroom.” Zach framed her face in his hands. “Have faith that he won’t bother you. Pray while you change into your clothes. Azazel’s only trying to win you back. Pay no attention to him.” Tears flowed down her cheeks from all the emotions draining her. “He has it set up exactly the way he did when I came in from work. It was before we had problems and like the night he asked me to marry him.” Zach pulled her close and squeezed her with affection. “It was all a lie. Azazel’s only playing with your mind. He wants you to stay in the past. Let go. It’s for your own good.” Simra tilted her head up and nodded. Zach and Tristan were playing with her mind. “Yeah, I know. I refuse to have my heart broken ever again.” Zach framed her face in his hands. "I might've let Lucinda down all those years ago. But I promise I'll never let you down, and I especially won't let her down again." Unsure of what to believe, Simra refused to trust Zach. She turned and stomped into the bedroom. She tried praying the entire time she was in the bedroom. Simra searched the closet, grabbed what she needed, and rushed into the bathroom. She took one last peek at the bedroom. Grimacing at how Tristan tried to win her back, she shivered before slamming the bathroom door. Simra changed into a pair of light blue jeans and a long white blouse with the sleeves stopping at her elbows. She slipped her feet into a comfortable pair of sandals. Her blonde strands of hair were tied into a ponytail. The outfit was perfect for being at the lake. She rushed out of the room to meet Zach. The frigid temperature caused her to shiver. Objects in the rooms clattered. Portraits rattled on the walls and almost collapsed to the floor. The flames vanished from the candles in her room. Tristan’s fury shuddered throughout the house. Zach gathered her into his strong arms and carried her out the door before it locked behind them. “Azazel's getting angrier. Let’s meet Jeff before my brother decides to do something insane.” Simra peeked over Zach’s shoulder to see the glowing yellow eyes of Tristan. She kept her eyes locked on the hideous demon until Zach got them away. Her body shivered at the frightening appearance of him. Demons did exist, and his glowing eyes proved the reality of evil. She recalled reading the journal. What he did to her family all those years ago made her feel sick. Her stomach churned more at the thought of something happening to Jeff. She must do whatever it took to protect him tonight. Chapter 11 "For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." -Psalm 91:11 They arrived at Espresso Café in no time, and Zach placed Simra on her feet at the side of the building. “Simra? We’re here.” She almost didn’t hear him. Simra’s feet stayed frozen to the ground from shock. “I…I know. His eyes. Tristan’s eyes were-“ “Glowing? Yes. I know. They glow when someone’s made him extremely angry.” She leaned against the brick building. “I've never seen anything so frightening. Why don't you and your brother be honest about what you really are in the beginning? And why haven't his eyes ever glowed before?” Zach's eyes filled with softness. “He was in his mortal vessel then. Just be glad you haven't seen his entire demonic form. It's frightening. While the demon resides in a human body, it can’t make its eyes glow. He didn't tell you everything because he didn't want you to know what he is. I never told Lucinda because she would've thought I'd gone mad. She would've ignored my warnings. Then, Azazel really would've gotten the best of her.” He paused and explained further. “His demon’s separated from the vessel now. He’s stronger than ever now. Azazel should’ve returned to the underworld, but he stayed to possess you.” “Why’s it only me and Grandmother who sees you and the demon? Why doesn’t anyone else see you two?” She dared to ask. “Azazel cursed you both. He made it so all your grandmother could remember and see is the demon tormenting you and her. She doesn’t remember anyone or anything else, but I promised Lucinda I’d protect you.” He paused and added, “Azazel cursed you to see his demon and Lucinda’s death. I am death, and my brother didn’t realize what he did until after he completed the curse. Again, I’m sorry.” His eyes were full of compassion. She kept seeing Tristan's eyes in her troubled mind. And Zach couldn't fool Simra with his lies of not betraying her. He had already betrayed Simra by showing the same feelings toward her that he showed for Lucinda years ago. And he was collecting her grandmother's soul. “She’s not dying anytime soon. I’ll make sure of it. Why’d he choose me and my grandmother?” “Lucinda's beauty, determination, and innocence captivated him years ago, but she rejected him. He sees her in you. Azazel believes he has another chance to have her now. What I feel for you is different. It's stronger than what I felt for Lucinda. I've been praying for God to remove these feelings because they're wrong, but He hasn't. I don't know why. I'm fighting what I feel for you the best I can." A sob lodged in the back of her throat. He just admitted that he loved her. Hearing him admit it already broke her heart because they were wrong for each other in so many ways. Simra fought back tears. “I’m going inside to see Jeff.” Zach placed a gentle hand to her cheek with his eyes intense on her. “Even if it's wrong, know that I'll always be with you. Go for now. Jeff’s waiting. I’ll guard the outside of the shop.” That only made it worse. Simra turned away before she would start crying and walked into the coffee shop. She inhaled the strong aroma of coffee. The mellow acoustic music caused Simra’s tightened muscles to loosen with delight. The people swayed to the talented young singer’s calming tune on the small stage in the front. A harmonica was attached to a metal band around the woman’s face. She also played the guitar. The musician with short dark hair and black-framed glasses sang magically as she performed. Her voice and music sent delicious waves of delight through Simra. For a second, all was forgotten about the evil around her. Then, she spotted Jeff sitting by a window. He sipped on a cup of coffee in his hand. Simra was reminded of the reason she came in that instant. For the first time, going to see a musical performance with him wouldn’t be fun like the old days. Her blood turned cold from the fear of losing him to an enraged demon. Faith. She must hold on to what little faith she had inside of her. Simra smiled when she saw her friend waving. The detective motioned for her to come and take a seat beside him. She rushed toward him and gave him a tight hug. Something horrible was about to happen. Simra almost sensed it. This night seemed to have already happened, but she must trust God. “Jeff, I’ve been so worried about you. Glad you’re well. What'd you find?” His smile waned when she mentioned finding something. “Did Mandy decide not to come? I followed Quint to the quarters today, and something bizarre happened. I can’t explain it. It also seemed to stun Quint and the other drug dealers.” Simra placed her hand on Jeff’s, which rested on the table. “Mandy’s taking care of Grandmother at the lake house. I’ve witnessed incidents since Tristan’s death that can’t be explained either. So, please, tell me.” “Is Zach here, or did he stay?” “He's outside guarding the place. So what happened?” The detective leaned forward and described everything he witnessed in a hushed voice. Jeff seemed to not wish for others to hear the odd experience. Simra gasped when he told her about the tire airing up by itself. The wheel of the drug dealer’s car became flat. Jeff explained how it saved him from the dangerous situation in the quarters by magic. Zach must have been there to help her friend. The way the angel of death helped Jeff warmed her heart. Maybe Zach wasn’t anything like his brother. Perhaps the charming angel could be trusted. Zach seemed to want to protect her, her family, and friend. The angel was doing everything he could to destroy the demon forever. “Jeff, it was Zach.” Simra explained more about the angel and demon. She told him about Lucinda's journal. Her friend’s eyes lit up. “There's something else. I researched Dr. Zach Hanley. He drowned in the lake while fishing a year ago. There were also twins in Lucinda's younger days named Zachriel and Azazel Hanley. Azazel Hanley was wanted for murder years ago, and Zachriel was a detective. Both brothers disappeared after the murder. According to the newspaper article, Azazel and Zachriel were both involved in the cult. I'd be careful around Zach too if I were you.” Simra felt the blood drain from her face. "Oh my…” Quick movements snatched her attention outside the window. Zach clasped his hand around Tristan’s neck and shoved him against a truck. Never did the angel appear so aggressive and out of control! She and Jeff needed to get out of there. Simra turned to Jeff, rose from the table, grabbed his hand, and started to run. “Both brothers are outside the shop. We have to leave. Now! I'm not allowing anything to happen to you.” Jeff followed her into the face of danger. “Wait!” Chapter 12 "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." -Matthew 10:28 Simra hurried out the doors of the coffee shop and into the cool night air. She scanned the parking lot for any people. Everyone was inside the coffee shop and listened to the young musician. The people didn’t seem to notice what took place outside the windows. Jeff gazed from Simra to where she looked several times. He followed her into his car without Tristan and Zach noticing. The demon slipped from his brother’s grasp and stepped behind him. Tristan grabbed a handful of Zach’s hair and pinned him against one of the vehicles. Simra ached from her heart getting broken again. Zach tricked her worse than Tristan did. They were both fallen angels! However, a part of her couldn’t bear to see Zach defeated. Simra dialed the number to Mandy's phone, and her cousin answered. "Sim, is everything okay?" "No, Jeff found out some things about Zach. He's just as evil as Tristan, Mandy. You and Grandmother have to leave now! Take her back to your place, and I'll meet you there. Jeff's bringing me now." "Oh my! Okay, we're on our way." Zach seemed to have hidden his true form all this time. They must stay away from him. Simra’s main priority was keeping her family safe. There must be another safe place other than the lake house. Jeff sped down the road. "How are you going to stay away from Zach and Tristan? You know they'll probably find you, right?" "It seems my only option is to rely on God. I know I've never really had a relationship with Him. But I think it's time to start trusting Him. After all, He's kept me safe all this time. What are you doing about Quint tonight? Isn’t he supposed to meet you in the quarters for his money?” “Yeah……actually, there’ll be disguised cops follow me into the quarters where I met him. We’ll arrest him tonight. No doubt about it. I believe God's been the One keeping all of us safe. There has to be somewhere safe from Tristan and Zach.” Simra recalled how a person involved with drugs lied most of the time, and her heart thumped with madness. Maybe Quint had other plans. Maybe the drug dealer knew it was a setup to arrest him. “We'll figure something out if Mandy's place isn't safe. I also don’t want you or anyone else to get harmed.” Jeff eyes wavered. “Yeah. I’ll do my best to stay safe. But I don’t know what to expect with an evil angel and demon on our hands. Quint will be handled properly.” “Jeff, can we stop by my house to pack a few things? I won't be home for a few days.” “Of course," Jeff replied, making the turn down Simra's neighborhood. Simra knew this would be the best opportunity to pack since Zach and Tristan were both distracted. She dug through her clothes in the closet and in the dresser. Simra stuffed them, her phone charger, and toiletries into a large suitcase. Everything in the house appeared the same as when she came with Zach. Tristan left all their memories scattered through the house. The pictures of Tristan and Simra together, which he left in the den and bedroom, drew a heaviness in her throat. The Burberry cologne still suffocated her. Everything sucked Simra back into a dreadful past she longed to forget. His letters were strewn across the floor, and she crumbled up one of them. Silence filled the room, and the cold breath of evil seemed to close in on her. A hand grasped her shoulder, and she jerked back in response. Simra turned to see Jeff behind her. “Sorry to startle you, Sim. I noticed everything of yours and Tristan’s everywhere.” Simra snatched one of the love letters from the floor and ripped it to shreds. “I trashed them. He must’ve found them, collected them, and brought everything back to me. Tristan’s manipulative and possessive. He’s only doing this to win me back.” Jeff gave Simra a look of apology. “Don’t allow him that control over you. Give it completely to God. He helped you live through all that madness with Tristan in the past. God will give you the strength to survive it again.” Simra gave Jeff a warm smile and squeezed him with a tight hug. “Thank you for being so supportive. Your kindness and friendship means the world to me.” “I love you, Sim. Now let’s get to Mandy's. I've got to meet the guys soon." He led Simra out of the house. "I love you too, Jeff." They got into the car and drove away. The lights of a vehicle behind Jeff almost blinded Simra after a while. The person tailed Jeff's bumper for far too long. Jeff frowned and squinted his eyes from the blinding lights in the mirror. “I wish this crazy driver would back off my tail. I'm driving fast!” Jeff made a wide turn onto another road. Simra’s heart dropped to her stomach. The street lights revealed a familiar dented vehicle speeding after them into the neighborhood. The engine fired up louder, and the car raced after them. “Jeff, don’t go to Mandy's! It’s Tristan’s Dodge Charger!” Simra’s heart bled because of the danger she placed Jeff into tonight. How could she have placed his life into the hands of a mad, enraged demon? Maybe she and her family really were safer at the lake house. Jeff grabbed his two-way radio and alerted other cops in the area. They responded in seconds. Jeff replied and told them the location he was headed. "We'll be there in five minutes at the most. Can you get there in that amount of time?” The officers responded, "Ten-four, we're on our way." Simra’s heart hammered against her chest. “You think it's the drug dealer?" "I saw a similar car at Quint's house today. He must've been parked by your house and saw us." The bright lights on the front of the car grew closer and blinded them more. Tristan’s headlights ducked under the rear of Jeff’s vehicle. Simra felt the blood rushing from her face as she jolted forward. The Dodge Charger rammed into them with a brutal thrust. Jeff’s car swerved to the other side of the road and back into the proper lane. They might be killed by this insane driver! Simra had to protect Jeff and her family to the best of her ability tonight. She would prove to herself that she could do it. Without a lying angel! The car backed away from them. Then, it sped up in a rush. The Dodge jammed into them when it caught up. Jeff’s vehicle dove off the road and into the ditch. The other officers were supposed to meet him at this spot. No other houses or cars were around them. Mandy lived in the middle of nowhere. Simra touched a small dab of blood oozing from her brow. Jeff, who appeared unwounded, remained seated in the car. "Don't worry. I have a gun, but he probably has one too." Simra lifted her head to the stars above the pine trees after seeing Quint get out of the car. God, please watch over us. Surround us with Your presence. Amen. Simra began to regret how she ran away from Zach. Her eager heart raced to go back in time. Quint reached into his pocket and pulled out a pistol. "Ya lying fool! Ya are a cop and involved wit' her. Step outta' tha' ca'! Both o' ya! I'm 'bout to kill ya both afta' I get my money. Now both o' ya owe me a million in cash." Jeff turned to Simra and nodded as they stepped out of the car. Simra’s feet froze to the ground, and her body grew numb. "I'll kill you myself if you kill him or my family." The drug dealer clicked his gun and prepared to shoot her. “No one kills anyone but me. Got it? Ya new boyfriend, dis cop, will die right now.” Simra couldn’t control her lips from parting with surprise. Zach rushed from the thicket of pine trees and made it to the drug dealer before Quint shot at Jeff. Simra blocked the detective. Her muscles tightened. She jerked back when the thug pulled the trigger. Her breathing halted. The bullet didn’t hit her. She turned to Jeff, who didn’t get hurt either. Gazing up, Simra saw how Zach eased the gun in another direction. The crook didn't realize Zach was there. Quint fired at Jeff and Simra again. The loud boom of the pistol made Simra’s bones almost jump out of her skin. Zach kept easing the gun in a different area. The drug dealer aimed at a sign and hit it right in the center. The thug tried to shoot them again. Zach caused Quint to fire in a different direction. The crook’s eyes narrowed with confusion when he gazed at the weapon in his hand. Simra gathered all the courage within her to run toward Quint. They needed to steal the gun before it was too late. Zach protected them. Maybe they could take the pistol without getting shot. She motioned for Jeff to help her knock Quint down. One of them could grab the weapon from his hand. Jeff wrestled him to the ground. Simra snatched the hard barrel of the gun from the thug. Sirens whirred in the distance and came closer by the second. Simra aimed the gun at Quint and kicked him in the groin. She hissed at him between clenched teeth. “Never touch my family again if you want to stay alive.” She would risk her life to protect Jeff, Lucinda, and Mandy. Simra took shaky steps away from the man and allowed Jeff to handcuff him. She glanced toward the angel, who frowned at her. Three vehicles approached, and their flashing blue lights almost blinded Simra. The tires of the cop cars squealed and came to an abrupt stop on the side of the road. Jeff rushed toward them and told them about Quint trying to kill them. The detective told the others that Quint had an awful aim. Simra glanced at the drug dealer, who glared at the cops. The numbness tingling in her veins couldn’t be controlled. Her body quivered as dread mounted inside of her. Simra's stomach churned to know what Tristan might do next. Surely he would be angry that Quint was arrested. The squealing brakes of Tristan’s worn out car caused Simra to flinch when one of the cops took it away. Quint must have wrecked the thing several times after he took it. That vehicle was in excellent condition when it belonged to her ex-fiancé. Simra turned to their friend when he came toward her. “Jeff, I forgot to ask if you found any trace of Tristan's body.” Jeff lifted the glasses from the bridge of his nose for a brief moment. “I looked everywhere around Longview and found nothing. I’ll continue searching for it; however. Come on, let's get to Mandy's. We're not far from it. I've got to get to the station and deal with the arrest." As they made the drive there, Simra looked at Jeff. "What made you believe me about seeing Tristan and Zach? Have you ever seen angels?" Jeff's eyes filled with pain, and he sighed. "No, but my mom did just before she died. She saw an angel and reached out for him. Mom asked me if I saw him too. I didn't, but she died seconds later. I believe in angels and demons. They are as real as God. That's why I believe you. I just hope you'll be okay. I'm so worried about you. My mom saw an angel of death just before she died. I don't want to lose you too, Sim." Simra felt the blood drain from her face. "You won't lose me. And we won't lose Grandmother either. I'll make sure of it." Nothing would happen to Mandy and Jeff either. Enough of Simra's family members were dead. Becoming involved with a demon would never be forgotten. Her grandmother’s life might already be taken. It was all because of Simra and Lucinda's involvement with Tristan. Simra would blame herself forever for not listening to her grandmother sooner about Tristan. A deep regret flooded her senses over deciding to stay at Mandy’s tonight. Something told her they should have stayed at Zach’s lake house. Chapter 13 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." -Joshua 1:9 The Lake O’ The Pines seemed so far away from Mandy’s place. Lucinda and Mandy needed their rest. Simra shouldn’t ask her cousin to go back to the lake house. The hour grew much too late. They had God, and He would protect them. “We’ll be safe. Right, Sim?” Simra bit her lower lip and realized her own lack of faith in the Lord. “Of course. Just have faith.” A few lamps lit up the den. Simra had sighed from some relief after walking into Mandy's cozy home. The faint scent of Sea Island Cotton caused her to relax. Simra's feet sank into the plush white carpet. She relished the softness beneath her feet. Simra flinched at the chiming grandfather clock. It was late. Portraits of Simra, her cousin, their grandparents, and Mandy’s parents surrounded the house. Mandy even kept the pictures of their friends from college. Simra spotted the photo of her, Jeff, and Mandy in their gowns and caps at graduation. Their silly faces drew a smile from her. All her happiness and joy had been snatched away by-oh, she hated to think of him again. Her breathing stopped as she held back a sob. A picture caught her eye. Lucinda’s bright smile tore her heart to a thousand pieces of remorse. Mandy picked up that same photo. She placed a hand on Simra’s shoulder. “That’s the day it snowed so much. I'll never forget how excited you became when Grandma showed us how to make snow angels. I miss those days sometimes. You and Grandma were so happy.” Simra cast her tear-filled eyes to the floor in shame. “It’s my fault. I should’ve never allowed that horrid demon into my life. How could I have been deceived by something so evil?” Mandy took her cousin’s hands and squeezed. “Don’t blame yourself. It isn’t your fault. He chose Grandma long ago, and he's a demon. It was out of your and Grandma's control. Come. Let’s go to bed. It's been a long day.” Lucinda paced the floor behind them. The woman's hands trembled at her sides. Although her shaky words were unclear, Simra exchanged worried glances with her cousin. Mandy led them down the hall. Simra’s stomach twisted with revulsion at the thought of Tristan hiding in the dark shadows of the house. The demon might be very enraged that Quint was in jail. Simra hated to imagine how he would react. She reached for her grandmother’s delicate hand, but the woman wrenched herself free. Lucinda continued pacing back and forth when they got to the room. Their grandmother’s widening eyes ripped Simra’s soul in half. Mandy’s gaze followed Lucinda's every move. “You think she senses when the demon’s around? Look how she’s acting. She never behaved this way at the lake house.” Torn emotions scattered throughout Simra’s soul and weakened her body. They should have stayed at the lake house. Lucinda did react this way when Tristan came around them. But the hour grew late. Simra couldn’t understand why their grandmother was so fond of Zach. The angel wanted Lucinda's soul. He performed evil spells too. Surely the older woman knew that from years ago. Mandy and Lucinda had dark circles underneath their eyes. They needed rest. Faith. Simra could not let go of her faith. She would prove to Zach how she didn’t require his help. Mandy and Lucinda must be protected even if she got no sleep tonight. She squared her shoulders and took Mandy’s hands in her own. “Have faith. Pray for our protection.” Simra glanced at the floor and realized her own lack of trust in the Lord. Mandy’s eyes wavered, and she passed a troubled look from Simra to their grandmother again. “I’ll pray for it many times tonight. Tristan’s dangerous. I don’t trust him anywhere around us. Something tells me we were safer at Zach's.” Simra glanced at Lucinda. “If something happens, we might have to go back. I hate putting you through all this trouble, but Grandmother's freaking out.” Mandy’s gaze remained on their grandmother. “I can see that. I won't have a problem with it, Cousin. I'll try putting Grandma to bed now. Just tell me if anything starts happening.” “You certain you don’t want to go to sleep and let me take care of her? You look so tired.” Simra's heart ached for Mandy and their grandmother, who were both deprived of rest. “No. Go on to bed, Sim. The demon and Quint have you very stressed and tired. I see it in your eyes. You need all the sleep you can get. Goodnight. Love you.” “Well, all right. Goodnight, Mandy. Love you.” Simra smiled at her cousin. Grabbing her suitcase, Simra pulled it into the guest room. After changing clothes, she climbed into bed. She yawned and got ready to pray. However, Simra couldn’t erase a sick feeling in her stomach. Tristan always appeared out of nowhere. A cold, gentle hand squeezed her foot under the covers. Simra dared opening her weak eyes and hoped it was only Lucinda or Mandy. She almost stumbled off the bed when she saw Tristan's glowing eyes. Her ex-fiancé drew closer and closer in the suffocating darkness. Simra’s faith faded more by the moment. The demon loomed over the bed. Her wild heart hammered against her chest. Tristan drove his face a breath away from Simra’s in a split second. He gripped her shoulders with his powerful hands. “Zach will be gone forever soon. Then, we’ll be together always and forever.” Chapter 14 "Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted." -Matthew 5:4 Simra struggled to free herself from Tristan’s painful grip. She couldn’t get loose even after attempting to kick him. Tristan’s strength weakened her body. The overpowering scent of smoke almost suffocated her. The demon just stood there and gazed deep into her eyes. His powerful grip on her arms held her still. However, Tristan didn’t try harming her in any way. Simra closed her eyes tight and prayed in silence for the Lord’s protection. God, please surround me and my family with Your protection from Tristan. Amen. She couldn’t concentrate on her prayer. Simra could only focus on the misery in the demon’s eyes. His deep sadness reached through her soul. Somehow, she needed to learn to have faith in the Lord. Weakness spread throughout her paralyzed body. The demon studied her and held her arms in his firm, powerful grip. Zach stormed into the room. She hid a gasp of relief and shock. The angel yanked Tristan away from her. Zach pinned him onto the bed. Her ex-fiancé struggled to get free from his brother’s strong grasp. The angel needed assistance holding him down. Simra leaped from the bed to help him keep Tristan pinned to the mattress. Zach turned toward her, and his intense gaze lingered on Simra. “Trust God.” The angel closed his eyes and mumbled something in a different dialect. After finishing, Zach released his brother and pulled Simra away from the demon. Tristan's agonizing screams echoed throughout the house. Fire reflected in his yellow eyes. “I’ll come back for both of you!” Tristan stormed out of the room. His shadow vanished on the wall in the hallway. Simra wriggled from Zach’s grip and tried rushing after her family until the angel stopped her. “Mandy! Are Mandy and Grandmother all right?” “There’s no need, Simra. They’re fine. Azazel’s in pain for now. He ran away to return his strength. Your faith’s weak. The Lord will fight for you. The Father’s love for you is overwhelming and strong. The hairs are numbered on your head, and He has many purposes for you. Trust Him to protect you. "And don't always believe what you see or hear in news articles about someone. Most rumors aren't true." Leaving the room in a swift movement, Zach disappeared from sight. “Wait!” Simra called to Zach to stop him, but Mandy ran into the room. Mandy turned on the light, and her frantic gaze explored the area. “What's going on?” Lucinda took quick baby steps behind Mandy and cried out in desperation. “Go now! We go now!” Their grandmother pulled Simra’s arm in a rough manner. Lucinda seemed to be trying to persuade them to leave. Simra tried to calm Lucinda. “All right, Grandmother. All right. We’re going back to the lake house. Promise.” She framed the woman’s delicate face in her hands. Simra spoke in a gentle tone, but it seemed to soothe the woman only a little. Mandy’s lips parted in surprise. “Grandma talked! Sim, is the demon here? What's happening?” Simra sat on the plush brown comforter and explained everything. “Take us back to the lake house. It’s safer there. Tristan's gone for now but will come back. I’m more worried about what he’ll do to you and Grandmother.” Bewilderment entered her cousin’s tired green eyes. “I’ll help you load the luggage, and we’ll go. Will it be safe? Is he gone for a while?” Simra wanted explanations from the angel. “Zach sent him away for a while, but Tristan won’t be gone long. Let’s go to the lake house before the demon comes back. It’s protected. Zach will be there. I think that news article was just a rumor. You know how rumors in the news are sometimes not true.” A heavy sigh followed by a lengthy yawn escaped Mandy’s lips. She helped Simra with their grandmother and grabbed the suitcases. “All right. You believe Grandmother's improving?" "No. I believe she's getting worse. Some things she can remember, but most things she can't. It's getting worse." Tears filled Mandy's eyes. "I hate the thought of losing her." Simra placed her hand on Mandy's shoulder. "I'm going to try my best to break this curse on her by destroying Tristan. There might be a chance she can be saved." Losing more faith by the moment, Simra’s rapid heart thumped against her chest. She hoped they would make it to Zach’s lake house before Tristan returned. Then, she also had to protect their grandmother from the angel. "I hope so, cousin. I've just never heard of anyone being cured of Alzheimer's.” Simra packed the suitcases into the car and helped Lucinda inside the vehicle. “Well, Grandmother might be the first.” Mandy slipped into a pair of day clothes, and they got into the car. She began driving to the lake house and turned down the radio. “You know, Zach seems really nice. He’s done so much for you. I’m starting to believe you two are falling for each other. That’s kind of creepy, but at least he seems much more trustworthy than Tristan.” Simra’s gaze followed the highway, which led to the dirt road. “Zach’s nice, and he’s done much for me. I owe him for how he’s saved my life countless times. I never wanted to trust God until I met him. But I’m not falling for Zach. He isn’t human, and he’s Tristan’s brother.” Mandy drove into the driveway of the dark house. She parked the car and turned it off. Mandy took a brief glance at Simra and looked at the old home again. “Something about Zach’s house is so peaceful and serene. Maybe it’s because the place is protected from evil. Grandma seems to feel at home when she’s here.” Simra followed Mandy out of the car with their suitcases. She unlocked the front door with the key hidden underneath the doormat. “Right. It’s very safe here, which is why it’s best that all of us stay.” Mandy helped their grandmother inside the house. “I think it’s best that all of us are staying here too. Especially for you and Grandma’s sake.” Although it relieved Simra that they made it, she still had to keep an eye on their grandmother. She wouldn’t dare let the angel take Lucinda’s soul. “It’s best for all of us, but you and Grandmother should get some rest. It’s late.” Lucinda led them to the back bedroom and plopped onto one of the beds. The woman’s eyelids began closing to fall asleep. Mandy yawned and stretched. Simra couldn’t find it within herself to settle down. The demon wouldn’t stop chasing her. The horrifying look in his glowing eyes drove her to the edge of insanity. Simra never left her family alone in the bedroom after her cousin changed clothes and slid under the covers. Mandy drifted off to sleep in the bed next to their grandmother’s. Tristan would harm anyone who got in his way of Simra. She closed her eyes and prayed for protection against the bothersome demon. They must destroy her ex-fiancé soon. Every person she loved would be dead if they didn’t find the corpse. She glanced at the time on her shiny silver watch. She and Zach could still try to find the body tonight. Mandy’s eyes looked so deprived of sleep earlier. Lucinda seemed to need assurance that her family would be safe. Simra placed a gentle kiss on Mandy and her grandmother’s cheeks. They weren’t aware in their peaceful slumber. A tear slid down Simra’s face. There must be a way to resolve the conflict between herself and the Lord. Why would He allow this manipulative demon in their lives? How could He let the demon rule over her and her family? And He allowed the demon to kill her parents and curse her and Lucinda. She needed answers tonight. Simra turned to search for Zach and flipped on the lights in the dark kitchen to find no one there. She imagined what it was like when Lucinda stayed here years ago. Did it look the same? The floors creaked with every step she took. The cabinets and shelves appeared to be remodeled. The aroma of cedar and evergreen candles made her think of sitting around a fire. “Zach? Are you here?” Nothing. Only the frogs and crickets chirped outside the house. He didn’t have any neighbors. She never felt as alone as she did tonight. The chilling thought of Tristan caused her to swallow a heavy lump in her throat. Her shoulders jerked when someone placed a gentle hand on one of them. “Grandmother? I thought you were asleep. Come. Let’s get you back to bed.” She took her grandmother’s hand, but Lucinda refused to go. The woman slid into her granddaughter’s arms and held Simra close. “Look to God. Stay ‘way Azazel. Let go.” Everything within Simra snapped to coldness. Lucinda told her those exact words just before she became too ill. The only difference was that Lucinda spoke much clearer in the past. Tears slid down Simra’s cheeks, and she framed Lucinda’s face. “Grandmother, I’m so sorry I never listened to you. I wish there’s a way I could return to the past and fix this. I broke up with Tristan, but he won’t leave us alone. I’m going to take care of you and Mandy. I won’t let him or Zach hurt you. I promise.” Lucinda left Simra standing alone and broken when her words became jumbled together and unclear again. She followed Lucinda back to bed. Her grandmother slid under the covers and fell into another peaceful sleep. Another tear fell down Simra's cheek. She turned to go into the den. “Zach, make your presence known! I need answers.” Nothing happened. Simra’s heart raced in thunderous beats. She paid no attention to the creaking floor as she paced back and forth. Her mind swarmed with endless possibilities. Did Tristan do something horrible to him? Perhaps Tristan sent Zach away permanently before he began killing her family. All of them were in the demon's way. A sharp light shot through the house and aimed straight at Simra. She slipped backward and fell on her rear against the front of the couch. The bright beam almost blinded her. It came out of nowhere. Covering her eyes couldn’t even keep it from her view. Warmth enveloped her body when the light grew more bearable. She gazed into the beauty of it to see a lone man walking toward her. “Zach?” Zach placed a gentle hand on her cheek. His firm, tender voice sent ripples of splendor through her. “Wake up, Simra. You're not dead. God still needs you. Accept Lucinda's death.” Simra’s breathing grew uneven, and she drew away from him. “No, I won’t allow her to die. I’m breaking the curse before that happens.” Zach frowned, drew closer to her, and caused Simra’s insides to melt. No more words were spoken. Much frustration reflected in the dark blue depths of his eyes. Her eyes ached from the increasing need of sleep. The vivid rays of the strange light amplified her drowsiness. The beam loosened her stiff muscles from head to toe. The light and Zach faded away. One question weighed heavy on her mind as she tried to fight sleep. Was Lucinda all right? Her grandmother’s life might be slipping away at the moment. Simra had to fight this heavy wave of sleep to protect her! But the sleep began to overpower her. Chapter 15 "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." -Psalm 51:7 Simra’s eyelashes fluttered open to see a brilliant crystal white winter dazzling all around her. Evergreens covered the towering mountains in every direction. Their crisp clean scent smelled so familiar. Thick, heavy snow blanketed the trees. Tiny snowflakes drizzled from the sky onto her skin. The warm breeze kissed her face and made her feel like she was still in Texas. She took several steps in the snow, which didn’t melt in the warmth. Serenity embraced her soul. How did she get here? She only recalled trying to save her grandmother from a dope dealer, a demon, and a charming angel. This had to be a wonderful dream. No such place existed in the world. She recalled the picture at her cousin’s place of her, Lucinda, and Mandy. The painful memories of them making snow angels haunted her restless heart. Although far from Texas, she couldn’t escape the guilt pulling her into a dark hole. Those happy moments with her grandmother were gone forever. Simra never experienced such security as she did in these winter mountains. The demon and all evil in the world seemed so far away. Only God's extravagant creations existed here. She needed answers about Zach and about her grandmother overcoming the curse. Maybe God would give her the answers she sought with such desperation. Something about the place unwound her spirit. Every concern she had was left at home. Simra allowed the gentle snowflakes to fall into her hands. Strong, gentle arms enveloped her from behind. She welcomed their comforting presence. Zach’s calm, gentle voice melted her soul like warm caramel. “You look even more radiant when you’re at peace with the world around you.” Never did a man's arms comfort her this way. She cherished these sweet moments with him. Whereas, she would have pushed him away in the past. A smile formed across her lips, and her cheeks warmed. “This place is beautiful. I feel so safe with you here.” Zach turned her around to face him. “I’m glad you feel that way. You can stay at peace if you allow it. Remaining stuck in the past keeps you in a dark and vegetative state. That isn’t what God wants for you. He wants you to wake up and accept the past. Overcoming the past will bring you closer to the Lord. If you don’t allow Him to help you, you will die." “I don’t understand. Tristan's the one who hasn't let go of the past. He won't move on.” Zach lifted her chin with his finger. “Tristan’s only a small part of it. Let go of what happened to your grandmother. The curse was placed on her, and she's at rest now. Acceptance is the only way to peace. It's over. Let it go.” He paused and added, “Everything works together for the good. You might not understand now, but you will later. Every human eventually dies from something. God didn't want death in this world, but Satan's the reason for so much despair. But the time's coming when there'll be no more tears. Only joy. And you'll be with your family again. For now, wake up and enjoy God's new blessings.” “It's over? Did I miss something?” Zach stepped away from her and nodded. “It can be over if you choose, Simra. Look at the past differently, and wake up. I know how terrible you want freedom.” Her breath caught in her throat when she gazed at the top of the mountains. There were several snow angels standing all around them on every cliff. No, they were real and beautiful angels! At first, she mistook them for the snow angels she, Mandy, and Lucinda made years ago. “Zach, look at the angels! Real angels!” She turned with excitement to face him. “They’re so exquisite.” “They’re sad for you, Simra. They’re God’s angels. They want you to allow Him to help you. Stop replaying the past over and over again. Let go of the guilt. The past is gone forever. Face and accept the present so you can go into the blessed future awaiting you.” Simra shook her head with a brutal force. A part of her died inside when he began to reveal what she denied. “I don’t understand what you’re speaking about, Zach. This is a dream, and I’m about to wake up any moment.” Zach placed a firm hand on her shoulder. “Stop running from the truth. Your grandmother’s already passed to the other side and is at peace now. She wants you to move on and have freedom.” Chapter 16 "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." -Matthew 6:33 Zach, the angels, and the snowy mountains began spinning around Simra. She stumbled backward into the snow. Everything became dark, and she fell into a deep sleep. The rays of lustrous sunlight awoke her with a start. Simra gasped in astonishment when she found the alluring paintings of mountains on the walls. Zach must really love the mountains. Was it a dream? Simra was so flustered that she barely noticed him standing over her. “Where’s Grandmother? What have you done?” Zach gave her a dark frown and motioned for her to stand. “She's fine. Let’s get to work. We have duties today, and my parents need me.” Simra bolted up and ran into the back bedroom to check on her grandmother and Mandy. Both were gone, and she felt the blood rushing from her face. Simra turned to Zach and panicked. “What'd you do to them?” She snatched a note from Mandy off the table. Her cousin took Lucinda to work so she could keep an eye on her. Mandy wrote that she knew Simra would be busy with Zach. Her cousin explained how Lucinda couldn't be left at the house by herself. They would return that evening. Mandy would be off from work by then. Simra closed her eyes in relief and held the note close to her heart. Then, she turned to the angel and tried grasping everything he said. Why did Zach tell her Lucinda already passed away in the dream? It must not have been real. However, every part felt like it really happened. The snow, the evergreen trees, and Zach’s touch sent spirals of splendor through her body. It warmed her skin to remember the way it felt in his loving embrace. Tristan might bother Mandy and Lucinda at work. Panic rose from the depths of Simra’s heart. She must restore her faith in God. Zach kept saying how she needed to let go of the past to be free. She didn’t grasp what he meant. Simra took his hand and followed him. She never wanted to listen to him most of the time. However, she began accepting other things he told her. What he said in the dream sent her into a whirlwind of confusion. “Where are we going, Zach?” The angel gathered her into his arms after they stepped off the high porch of the house. “First, we’ll speak to Pastor Mervin. Then, we’re going to my mom and dad’s. You'll talk to them about taking necessary precautions. Something terrible will happen. I hope we aren’t too late.” A warm security melted her insides like sweet honey when he held her so tight against him. Zach could be quite arrogant at times, but he also had such a tender side. How he saved her life multiple times would never be forgotten. She’d never forget how he saved her family and Jeff’s lives either. She owed the angel everything for what he did. Simra almost didn't notice when they arrived at the church. “The pastor’s inside?” He placed her on the long sidewalk leading to the entrance. Zach nodded and stepped closer to her. “Yes. Go inside and ask for Pastor Lynn Mervin. Tell him to write a sacred prayer for protection against my demon brother. You need to give it to my mom and dad. He knows us.” “Will he believe me about Tristan? Why can’t I use the prayer for me and my loved ones?” “Yes, Simra. He believes demons exist just as he knows angels and God are real. He knew me from years ago and recently. Tell him you can see and talk to me. Zach Hanley. You can say the prayer, but please work on your faith. You and your family must have faith. And you all are already taking necessary precautions. Seek God in everything you do. Trust that He's in control.” Simra’s soul froze to ice at how this angel seemed to know so much about her and her family. She didn’t have faith because of past occurrences. It didn’t help that they were all in danger by Tristan. Their involvement might diminish their faith in God more. Simra nodded and took hesitant steps up the long walkway leading to the church. Zach stayed outside to guard the place. The old door creaked open. She walked down the aisle between the wooden pews. The flames flickered on long white candles on the other side of the pews. Their light cast dim shadows against the walls. She still smelled the faint aroma of smoke from the matches. God’s warm presence embraced her. The haunting faint tune of “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” came from the back of the church. The song was played on a piano and cello, and a sob caught in her throat. She regretted not trusting Jesus through all this. But how could she? So much had been snatched from her life when she trusted Him in the past. A short older man approached her with recognition. His neat black hair was slicked down, and his blue eyes searched hers. Simra gazed at the floor and lifted her eyes back to him. “Pastor Lynn Mervin?” “Yes? And you are?” “Simra Reece, a friend of Dr. Zach Hanley’s.” She explained everything the angel told her to say. Simra asked the pastor to give her the prayer for protection. The preacher clasped his hands. “Are you related to Melton and Lucinda Reece? You remind me so much of Lucinda." "That's my grandparents." Pastor Mervin smiled. "I knew your grandparents and Zach very well. I was there when everything happened years ago. He never stopped blaming himself after he returned years later. It isn't his fault that Azazel cursed Lucinda. It's a shame what people said in the news about Zach years ago. He's nothing like his brother. I’m very sorry for your encounter with Azazel. I’ll give you everything you need and perhaps more. Please stop by the church and consult me anytime. You're at Cathleen's lake house where Lucinda stayed I hope?” Simra forgot for a moment that the lake house was her Aunt Cathleen's years ago. "Cathleen? Yeah, my family and I are staying there until Zach and I destroy the demon." "Good. Zach's fighting so hard to keep everyone safe. Please do everything he says. He knows how his brother's mind works, and he'll protect you all. I'll go and write that prayer for you." The preacher turned to go in the back of the building and left her there. Relief washed through Simra to hear everything the preacher said. He knew her grandparents, Zach, and Tristan from years ago. Pastor Mervin would be excellent to go to if she started having doubts about Zach again. A pastor like him could be trusted. He seemed to be a true follower of Christ. The preacher returned in no time with a piece of paper. The man handed it to her with a frown darkening his face. “Hold on to your trust in the Lord. Demons are the most dangerous creatures. They work for Satan. Don’t fall for their tricks. Remember that God’s much more powerful than every being in creation, including the devil.” She had already fallen for Tristan’s lies and tricks countless times in the past. She learned her lesson and would never believe anything the demon said again. Zach and God were there to assist her, but the problem was trusting them. Would the Lord allow all that pain in her life again? Would she ever understand the reason He allowed it? Keeping everyone safe from Tristan was her main priority now. Simra took the paper and shook his hand. “Thank you, Pastor Mervin. Your understanding and support are much appreciated.” “Be careful, Simra.” Simra smiled and walked out the door to greet Zach. “He’s a nice man, but I don’t know if I should tell your parents about their son being a demon.” Zach gave her a sarcastic laugh. “They already know somewhat. They had a brief encounter with him and me recently. Come, we have to go. Something terrible is about to happen. I sense it. I hope we’re not too late.” He swept her up into his arms. They arrived across the street from a large brick home. Cop cars and an ambulance were lined up in the driveway. Something terrible happened, and they must have been too late. Simra felt the blood rushing from her face. “Oh no! What happened?” Zach almost dropped her. He rushed inside to see about the disturbance. An older woman hurried out of the house alongside several paramedics. The men carried a covered body on the small bed. The lady broke down into continuous sobs. Zach tried reaching out to the woman who must have been his mom. Then, he pulled back when he seemed to realize she couldn’t feel him. Instead, he raised a fist in the air and cried out in rage. Guilt pounded at Simra for not doing what he asked in the beginning. She placed her own family’s needs first. Simra only worried about protecting her own loved ones. She had been so selfish. Someone in Zach’s family got murdered because of her. No one other than Tristan could have killed this innocent person. From now on, Simra would do everything Zach told her. It was the only way she knew how to make it up to him. Trust and compassion began to fill her heart. Tears flowed down her cheeks for the angel and his family. Simra flinched at the vibrating cell phone in her pocket. “Yeah?” “Simra, this is Jeff. Listen, I don’t know how, but Quint escaped. His prison cell was still locked after it happened. You believe Tristan had something to do with this?” Chapter 17 "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them." -Matthew 18:20 Simra held back a sob. “I suppose he did. Jeff, I think Zach’s dad was murdered. I’m sure Tristan or the drug dealer did it. I have to go. I’m at his parents' house right now. I’ll call you back.” She hung up in time to see Zach stomping toward her. A heated scowl shadowed across the angel’s face before he rushed to leave. “I’m finding Azazel. Talk to and stay with Mom.” Simra started to tell him how Quint escaped, but the words froze from escaping her lips. Simra shook her head, and more shameful tears fell from her eyes. The cop cars left, and she realized she must speak to Zach and Tristan’s mother. She brushed away her tears. Simra gathered up the courage and walked toward the wide front door of the brick home to knock. The older woman peeked out the door but didn’t open it all of the way. Ms. Hanley’s blue eyes were swollen and red from crying. She squinted at Simra. “Can I help you?” Simra nodded and forced a smile. “Hi, Ms. Hanley. I’m a friend of Zach’s. I know this sounds insane, but he's an angel. And I've been seeing him. He brought me here to protect you from your husband's murderer.” Ms. Hanley’s lips parted in surprise, and she broke down into more sobs. The woman closed the door halfway. “How do I know you aren’t a friend of the murderer’s?” “Please trust me, Ms. Hanley. The killer's after me too. A drug dealer named Quint killed Tristan. You might not have heard the news, but I was engaged to Tristan last year. He won’t leave me alone now. Zach’s been protecting me from him and Quint. Your son told me he witnessed how Tristan’s been tormenting you and your husband. However, I see we were much too late to stop the murder. Zach’s very angry and is chasing after Tristan now.” The woman’s eyes widened with astonishment. Ms. Hanley opened the door wider and placed a hand to her heart. Her thin gray hair barely reached her neckline. “You’re Simra, Tristan’s fiancé? He’s dead? My sons are the ones bothering us? Come in. Tell me more. I know you endured such a difficult time with Tristan and how he must’ve treated you. I’ve heard so much about you from him before he disappeared. I believe you.” Simra sighed from relief when Zach and Tristan’s mom opened the door for her to enter. “Yeah, I’m Simra Reece. Tristan’s my ex-fiancé. He’s not just a spirit; he’s a demon.” She tried to hide the surprise from his mom knowing about her. Tristan went into great detail about his parents being dead when they first met. That could explain his future plans of murdering them. The thought caused her to shiver with dread, but she didn’t dare tell his mom. She described everything to Ms. Hanley, including how it began with her grandmother. Simra told her about the protective barrier around the lake house. She explained about her and her family staying there. “Ms. Hanley, Zach wanted me to give you this prayer for your protection. My grandmother and I are the only ones who can see him and Tristan. Your strong faith will protect you as you recite this each day. I suggest we pray together now. Who murdered your husband? Was it Tristan or Quint?” Ms. Hanley broke down into lengthy sobs. “That explains so much about my sons. I've always questioned things about them. The killer claimed his name was Quint. He shot my husband. He said Tristan owed him money. He wanted the money from us. We didn't have it. Let's pray.” Unable to refrain herself, Simra placed an arm around the woman to soothe her. “I promise Zach and I will keep you safe from your evil son and Quint. You'll be safer staying at the lake house with us. We’ll recite the prayer now. Then, you should start packing.” More tears fell from the woman’s eyes. “Thank you, dear. I'll pack my things and stay with all of you.” Simra smiled with relief and unfolded the piece of paper the preacher gave her. She and Ms. Hanley recited the prayer and bible verses together. They held hands until they finished. Tears fell from their eyes while they read. A special bond grew between them that Simra couldn’t describe. Glory spread throughout Simra’s soul from sharing the Lord with another person. God did protect her and her family at the lake house. He also sent Zach to save them at Mandy’s. Simra's faith grew stronger. God might protect Zach’s mom too. Simra closed her eyes to pray a silent ‘thank you’ to the Holy Spirit. She caught a glimpse of Zach walking past the window. The angel must have returned from finding his brother. Simra placed her hand on Ms. Hanley’s. “I believe I see Zach outside. He might be waiting on me. I’ll be right back.” Ms. Hanley squeezed Simra’s hand with tears streaming down her cheeks. “Please tell him to come inside.” “I will.” Simra walked out the door and stepped onto the lawn. She scanned the yard for him. Her stomach twisted in knots at the thought of her family being in danger right now. Tristan and Quint were both on the loose. Her family might be their next target. She needed to make sure her loved ones were safe. Silence settled around the area. Simra turned to go back inside the house. Maybe it was only her troubled imagination. Strong hands clasped her shoulders and turned her around to face glowing demon eyes. “Hi, baby. You’re coming with me now.” Tristan covered her mouth to stop her from screaming. “My brother got distracted when he found your other detective boyfriend in trouble with Quint. Zach's too busy guarding your other lover. He confuses me. The guy’s supposedly in love with you, yet he protects that loser cop.” Simra struggled to free herself from Tristan’s tight grip. He traveled across town with her in his arms. The demon’s strength overwhelmed her with a consuming surge of dizziness. Her heart raced out of control. This might be the end of her life. Tristan could be taking her away to be with him forever. A deep, frigid regret filled her soul. She mistook him for Zach. The two brothers shared all physical qualities except their height. Hopefully, Ms. Hanley would go straight to the lake house for safety. Maybe the woman would be all right. However, Jeff was in grave danger. His life might be snatched away by the hands of a money-hungry murderer. And Simra was helpless. Chapter 18 "Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." -Isaiah 43:18-19 Tristan placed Simra on her feet at a familiar pond. Several gar swam near the shore beside the winding path. She peered through the forest behind them and noticed no one around. Birds chirped along the edge of the woods. The sun splayed its warmth against her back. The strong perfume of purple wisterias drew Simra back to their first kiss in this same spot. She would not be drawn into his game again. Although the place seemed like a hidden paradise, it filled her with dark memories. A sickness nauseated her and made her weak. She didn’t know how much longer she could stand being there with him. The demon took a step closer to her, and his grin widened. “I knew you’d remember this place. I still come here to go back to that special moment every day. Simra, I love you. I’m trying to change. Zach isn’t good for you. Don’t fall for his tricks. I admit to having problems, but my brother’s filling your head with lies.” Simra turned to leave from this horrid place. She needed to escape somehow. She turned to him before breaking into a mad run down the winding path. “I’m not foolish enough to fall for your lies ever again, Tristan. I trust Zach.” Thunder boomed all around, and the skies darkened. Several flashes of lightning struck near Simra. Her feet froze in place. Tristan’s captivating blue eyes began to glow. He seemed to stir up the dangerous storm to stop her from leaving. Tristan motioned for her to return to him. “Come back here, and don’t ever try anything like that again.” Her knees wobbled, and she took unsteady steps toward him. Trying to hide her fright, she lifted her chin with defiance. “I’m not falling for your tricks. I don’t care what you tell me. Zach will come for me soon, and he always succeeds in defeating you.” His eyes softened to the same shade of the ocean again. Tristan reached for her hands and pulled her closer. His breath froze her lips. The demon drew her deep into haunted memories. “I want to show you something Zach did to your grandmother. This is no lie. He can’t be trusted.” Tristan framed her face with his hands before she could jerk herself free. He consumed her lips with a long kiss. Flashes of her and Tristan's happy moments together replayed in her mind. Simra got transported to the lake house. The only difference was that it didn't appear remodeled. Zach kissed a young woman, who looked like her. They kissed in the same bedroom where Simra slept. Zach pulled away, but the woman reached out for him again. "No, I can't do this with you, Lucinda. It's not meant to be, and it's wrong. You're distracting me from what God sent me to do, and this must stop between us." Tears filled Lucinda's eyes. "That's all I am to you? A distraction? I thought you loved me." Zach stepped toward her, but Lucinda ran out of the house. The environment changed to the sandy shore of the lake. Simra recognized the young man holding Lucinda. He was her grandfather when he was young. He looked just like he did in the pictures. Lucinda wiped tears from her cheeks. "He told me he loved me, tells me I'm a distraction, and vanishes. What kind of man does that to a woman?" Melton lifted her chin with a finger and gazed into her eyes. "Lucinda-" Simra’s breath caught in her throat when the vision faded. Tristan got wrenched away from her by the angel. Zach’s eyes lit with fire, and he pinned his brother against a tree trunk. Her ex-fiancé jerked himself loose. The demon slammed Zach against another tree. Simra’s feet remained glued to the ground. She closed her eyes tight and whispered a prayer to the heavens. “God, please surround me with Your loving presence and cast out all evil. Let Thy will be done. Amen.” A violent storm hovered. Heavy raindrops splashed across Simra’s face. Blazes of lightning zigzagged all around, and deafening thunder boomed louder. Her eyes scanned the path and forest for a route of escape. Maybe her faith got weakened by what Tristan showed her in the vision. Zach had no right to hurt Lucinda in such a way. Most likely, he intended to break Simra's heart too. She started to run but couldn’t restrain a piercing scream. Lightning struck a towering tree standing on a hill beside her. One of its wide branches collapsed on her leg. The heaviness spread an excruciating ache through her limb. She couldn’t move from underneath the branch in time. A sharp surge of pain shot through her leg until it numbed. Rain poured in masses from the dark sky. The water in the pond began to rise. Simra shivered when the brothers caught a glimpse of her. They looked furious, and the raging storm grew fiercer. Although the heavy winds picked up, they didn’t stop Zach. He never gave up on sending Tristan away. Simra struggled moving the enormous branch off her leg to escape. Zach rushed toward her as Tristan watched them from behind. Jealousy ignited in the demon’s glowing eyes. A throbbing pain continued traveling up her leg. She whimpered from the disastrous ache. Simra’s gaze remained on Tristan’s dark scowl. She almost didn’t notice when the branch was removed. She still couldn’t move her leg. Simra drew away from Zach in uncertainty. Zach reached a soothing hand to her cheek. “I can heal your leg if you allow me to return you to safety.” "Where's Jeff?" she asked. "He's safe," Zach replied with reassurance. The pain he caused her grandmother haunted Simra. What Tristan showed her through his kiss took her back into another time. It couldn’t be a trick. Lies were only told in words. Doubt consumed her in trusting Zach when he said and did such horrible things to Lucinda. What puzzled Simra was why Lucinda still seemed fond of him. Zach hurt her. Did Lucinda not see that Zach would hurt her granddaughter too? Simra’s heart dropped when Tristan appeared behind his brother to catch him by surprise. The demon placed his hand on Zach’s head. Tristan mumbled words with clenched teeth in a foreign language. She thrashed her upper body about in an attempt to escape. It would be too late if she didn’t leave now. Simra crawled away and cried in tortuous pain. She couldn’t get away in enough time. She lifted her head to the darkening skies, and rain poured through raging winds. Simra closed her eyes to whisper a quiet prayer to God. Faith began building within her. “God, thank You for saving my life. Thank You for other blessings You’ve given me in this cruel world. Please deliver me from evil in this frightening place. Thy will be done. Always. Amen.” The pouring showers turned into a light mist, and she dared opening her eyes. The brutal winds softened into a calm breeze. The striking flashes of lightning vanished into the clear skies. Zach’s face changed from a look of pain to fierceness as though gathering all his strength. He stood to place a firm grip on Tristan’s head. The angel mumbled something in another dialect. Zach urged his brother to the rippling waters in the pond. Simra’s faith built even higher at how the violent storm composed into calmness. She repeated her same prayer in silence. Tristan grimaced with a cry of pain leading to the heavens. The demon stumbled backward into a deep part of the pond. Rage shadowed his evil glowing eyes. Tristan sank and disappeared into the bubbling waters. This wasn’t the end of him. The demon would come back for her and wouldn't stop until he got destroyed. If they didn’t find his body soon, she and her family might die. They needed to find the corpse before it was too late. She lifted her chin with defiance at Zach. There's no way she would fall for the same tricks he pulled on her grandmother. Simra knew she must remain on guard around him. Chapter 19 "Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off." -Proverbs 23:18 Simra squirmed when Zach placed a gentle hand on her sore limb. “Please don’t touch it. It hurts.” Zach’s gaze softened. “It’s severely bruised. I’ll take care of it at the lake house where it's safe.” “I don’t think I should be with you-“ “Simra, I know what you're thinking. I loved Lucinda, yes. I didn't want to hurt her. I couldn't help how I felt about her. I couldn't be with her because it was against God's will. She understood soon after I left and forgave me. Azazel failed to show you that part because he's trying to turn you against me. He's trying so hard to win you back. "I apologize for leaving you alone with Mom. She's at the lake house. I owe you very much for your help, but I discovered Tristan’s plans for distracting me. My brother wanted to capture you. Come. I’ll take you back to my place.” Simra didn't feel like arguing. She wanted nothing more than for the throbbing ache in her leg to cease. She didn’t stop Zach from taking her back to the lake house. Maybe the angel knew how to heal severe bruises. After all, he could make a demon disappear. Zach paused before opening the screen door. The angel placed a soothing hand on her cheek. He slid his other hand over her damp hair. Simra’s heart burned like hot coals. “Your leg will feel better soon, and you can change into some dry clothes. My mom will be happy you're all right." Simra nodded and tried to fight getting lost in his compassionate eyes. He helped her inside, and she found Ms. Hanley sweeping the floor. Relief washed over Simra to find the woman safe. Ms. Hanley stopped cleaning and rushed toward Simra and Zach. She squeezed Simra with a tight hug. "You're all right! You're soaked. What happened? I got so worried when you didn't come back inside the house. I didn't know what to do and didn't know what to tell the cops. So I came here praying you'd be here soon." Tears filled Simra's eyes from the pain Ms. Hanley endured because of her. Simra returned her hug with an affectionate squeeze and explained what happened. "I'm so sorry about everything. I'm responsible for what Tristan's doing. If only I'd stopped this sooner. Then, everyone wouldn't be in so much danger." Ms. Hanley framed Simra's face with her hands. "No, it isn't your fault. I've always known Tristan had a darkness in him. On the other hand, Zach seemed too perfect to be human. I should've never conceived someone so evil." Zach stepped between Simra and Ms. Hanley. "Stop blaming yourselves for Azazel's actions. That's what he wants. Only Azazel is to blame for all this chaos. We'll get through this." Simra glanced from Zach to Ms. Hanley and repeated what he said. "I promise that Zach and I will end this, Ms. Hanley. Just promise me you'll stay here where it's safe." Tears filled Ms. Hanley's eyes. "Zach's here? I promise. I'll do whatever you say. I love you, my sweet son. I'll never stop loving you with all my heart." Although his mom couldn't feel him, Zach rested a gentle hand on Ms. Hanley's cheek. "I love you too." "He loves you too." Simra cringed when she tried to walk on her own. Zach helped Simra into the bedroom onto the bed. "We'll give you medicine for pain and dry clothes." Ms. Hanley followed them into the bedroom. "You're hurt. Is there anything I can do?" Simra hated asking the woman for anything as Ms. Hanley had been through enough lately. Zach's mom was the one who needed care. "My leg's severely bruised. You have anything for pain? Can you also hand my suitcase to me? I need to change into dry clothing." "Of course, dear. We have Lortab here. I'll get it for your leg." Ms. Hanley handed Simra her bag and left the room to get the medicine. Zach's warm gaze burned through Simra before he walked out to give her privacy. Simra struggled to remove her drenched clothes without hurting her bruised leg. She slipped her blouse and jeans off and dried with a towel. Simra changed into a dress and rested her head against the pillows. She glanced toward the window at the vivid afternoon sun. Ms. Hanley walked back inside with medicine and a glass of water. She gave Simra a warm smile. "This should help the pain, but it might make you sleepy. You probably need rest anyway." Without hesitation, Simra took the painkiller. However, she did have questions about it. Did Tristan bring this Lortab to the lake house? After all, he sold it on the streets. If so, how did Ms. Hanley know about the Lortab? Ms. Hanley kissed Simra on the cheek as though she was her own daughter. "You should get some rest while I finish cleaning house. You look so tired." Simra returned her smile. "Thank you, you're so kind." Ms. Hanley paused before walking out the door. "I'm so sorry for what Tristan's doing to you. I see why he chose you. You have the most loving heart, and you're the most beautiful young lady there is. If only you and Zach could be married. You two are perfect for each other." Ms. Hanley smiled and left. Simra began to respond but stopped when Zach entered the room. "I'm in full agreement with Mom. You're the most loving and beautiful woman I've ever seen. If I was a mortal, I'd marry you right now." Her heart thudded with rapid beats, and she felt her cheeks flush. "Instead, you'll break my heart like you broke Grandmother's. I won't allow it. You won't hurt me like you did her. So don't even bother saying such things. You're wasting your time." "That's not my intention, Simra. I only want you to know that I feel the same as you do about me. I would ask you to marry me if I was human. However, you and I both know it isn't possible since I'm an angel of death. I'd give anything if things were different." The image of Zach and Lucinda in this same bedroom repeated in her mind. It was happening again. This time, he did it to Simra. She fought tears from misting her eyes. She refused allowing him to see the hurt he caused her. "I'm sure you would." Simra cast her eyes downward when he stood over her and framed her face. "I would. I know you have questions about Azazel." He sat beside her with his steady gaze piercing into her. “My dad was prescribed the Lortab when he broke his arm several months ago. An accident happened on the boat while fishing. He kept the pills when he and Mom stayed here. Dad got hurt last autumn. I promise. Azazel's never been inside this house.” Relief filled Simra, but pain overwhelmed her. “Tristan sold many of them as drugs. I found several bottles of painkillers in his coat pockets. I saw them during the last days of our relationship. He claimed he took them for a severe injury in his lower back that happened before I met him. Your brother never told me about the injury in the beginning. Instead, he informed me when I discovered the drugs and when he began disappearing.” Zach nodded. “I know. He did the same to our mortal parents. He placed them in much pain. They didn’t deserve it. You didn’t deserve it.” "I still ask myself why he chose me and Grandmother. I'll never understand. He's so obsessed with me. Why us?" “He's evil, Simra. He’s always served Satan. He's obsessed with you because he was obsessed with Lucinda. You're just like her. He chose Lucinda because of her loving heart, determination, strong will, and beauty. The same qualities as you. "Another main reason he chose you two is because you didn't have a relationship with Christ at the time. Lucinda didn't either until after she stayed here at the lake house years ago. You're beginning to get close to Christ too. Soon, Azazel will also lose you. He knows he’s getting destroyed soon. God's purpose for you is to help me end this.” Simra gazed at the floor with regret. Tristan could be so devious. “You’re right. We need to work together. I just want everything to return to normal.” Zach’s eyes lit into raging flames in an instant. “My brother’s trying to win back your heart. That’s part of the reason why he kissed you. I saw the place he took you meant something to both of you.” “Yeah.” A deep shame filled Simra from being with Tristan in such a way when she didn't love him anymore. Zach rested a gentle hand on Simra’s cheek with his gaze intense on her. “Don’t be ashamed. You couldn’t stop him. He’s a powerful demon. I’ll start protecting you much better.” Zach placed his hands on her injured leg and closed his eyes to whisper a prayer. Simra prayed a silent ‘thank you’ to God while the angel did this. The Lord brought her away from Tristan to safety. The shame building inside Simra vanished. Warmth flowed through her soul. The overbearing pain in her leg became numb. Simra opened her eyes to see Zach’s compassionate stare. His gentle touch caused her to melt with delight. “Feel any better?” He asked, taking her hand. Simra returned the angel’s warm smile and squeezed his hand. “Thank you. I think I can walk on it now.” She stood up and took several steps around the room. "It doesn’t hurt to walk anymore!” Sliding into his powerful arms, Simra hugged him for a brief moment. Although his physical traits haunted her with memories of Tristan, she never felt safer with anyone else. God sent Zach only to help her destroy Tristan, but she loved him. Her feelings for the angel of death were stronger than they ever were for Tristan, but it was wrong. Zach would return to heaven after they destroyed her ex-fiancé. Then, she must continue with her own life. Simra also remembered how the angel wanted her grandmother’s soul. She forced away those horrifying thoughts. His mind could be changed, and there might be a cure for the curse. The curse might be broken when they destroyed Tristan, and everything would return to normal. Realizing no future existed between them, she pulled away from him. “Thank you again, Zach.” Her heart hammered in her chest when Zach lifted her chin with a finger. The angel’s eyes burned into hers. “You’re a good woman, Simra. Never be ashamed of your involvement with a demon. You were deceived by his charm.” Simra drew away from him to not become anymore involved with Death. Tristan’s brother. “Yeah, perhaps I should stop feeling so ashamed. He lies so well, but none of this would’ve happened had I just not spoken to him the night we met. What should we do now? I didn’t realize it’s already evening. Mandy and Grandmother will be arriving any moment.” A strained silence fell between the two of them, and much pain entered Zach’s eyes. Darkness slipped through his voice. “Call Jeff. Ask him to send the other cops to search for Quint. He must concentrate on finding Azazel's corpse.” “Of course. The sooner we find it, the better.” Simra dialed the number to Jeff’s phone until he answered. “Sim! Where are you? I’ve been worried. You told me you’d call back earlier today. What happened?” Simra raked her long fingers through her hair. “Sorry for not calling you earlier. I got caught up in something, but I'm safe now. Mandy and Grandmother should be arriving any moment. Quint murdered Mr. Hanley, and Tristan’s the one who released him from prison. Can you ask the other cops to search for Quint? Zach wants you to just concentrate on finding Tristan's corpse.” “I’ll do that, Sim, but I’m concerned about you, Mandy, and Ms. Reece’s safety. The drug dealer's looking for you at all times. Quint will find wherever Zach has you hidden. You realize that, right?” Simra paced around the bedroom. “Zach will take care of Quint if he shows up. We just need to find Tristan's corpse so I can destroy it. It’s the only way to end all this.” “I’ll get right on it,” Jeff replied in a rush of words. “Listen, don’t go back to work until Quint’s arrested and Tristan’s destroyed. We’ll find the drug dealer soon. Call you back later.” Simra hung up, and her heart dropped when Zach ran toward her to grasp her. His eyes were wild with panic. Melting against the angel’s hard chest, her body grew limp. She couldn’t find the strength to struggle free from him. “What are you doing, Zach?” Simra blinked once, and hard rain slammed against the windows. The lamp flickered several times. It all started in only an instant. The thin walls vibrated from the booming thunder, and the ceiling creaked. Zach's mom rushed in the room. "What's going on out there?" Zach lunged for Ms. Hanley and gave her a shove onto the bed. Zach pulled Simra onto the bed and held her close when the floor began shaking with violence. Simra screamed when the strong winds picked up and whistled. Chills breathed down her spine from the power circling in on them. Lightning struck near the bedroom window. Simra inhaled the cedar aroma of his warm neck for comfort. Objects rattled in the house from the violent earthquake. Earthquakes were never heard of here. Tristan must be causing the storm since he couldn’t come inside. The demon must have been trying to destroy the house. The earthquake shook the floors with more brutal force. Zach held Simra and Ms. Hanley with a gentle grip to keep them from falling off the bed. Tristan’s mounting fury seemed to grow fiercer every moment. Simra felt the blood rush from her face. She realized Mandy and Lucinda might be in great danger. They were out there with the enraged demon. Chapter 20 "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." -Psalm 23:4 An overwhelming dread flooded through Simra. Her insides churned from uneasiness. Had she been outside during this raging storm, she would be dead. The demon's last whirlwind injured her. Tristan never revealed such powers in his mortal form. She couldn’t just sit around and not try to see if Mandy and Lucinda were safe. Zach framed Simra’s face in his hands. “Have faith your family will be safe. Don’t worry. Azazel’s only trying to frighten us out of the house. Let’s pray. Trust in God.” Simra took one of the angel’s hands and inhaled a quavering breath. Praying a silent prayer with him, she asked for willingness and strength. She also asked for the Lord to send Tristan away for everyone's safety. Ms. Hanley cried out when glass picture frames fell to the floor. They shattered when the earthquake grew more severe. Simra clung to Zach and his mom. The angel's sweet cedar aroma was her only comfort in this frightening madness. Her faith grew weaker until she recalled God helping them earlier. The Lord caused the storm and Tristan to vanish before her eyes at the pond. Simra’s ragged breaths calmed when the raging earthquake came to an abrupt end. The pouring showers and racing winds ceased. Crickets and frogs began singing their evening lullabies outside the window. Zach released Simra from the firm grip of his warm hands. He helped Simra to stand, and Ms. Hanley stood from the bed with her eyes wide from shock. "What happened, Simra?" Simra dared peeking out the bedroom window. The setting sun splayed its orange light over the gardenias and pink rose bushes in the yard. It was almost like the storm never happened. The only evidence was the mess in the house. Simra ran from the bedroom and looked out the kitchen window to see if Mandy and Lucinda had arrived. Her cousin's car wasn't outside. So they must have been safe. Simra rushed to Ms. Hanley and took her hands. "Ms. Hanley, Tristan tried to frighten us out of the house. He wants to kill you and capture me. This madness will end very soon. I promise." Tears misted Ms. Hanley's eyes, and the woman hid a slight gasp behind her hand. "I can't imagine someone so evil. How'd he come from me and Miles? Where'd we go wrong in parenting him?" Zach stepped toward his mom as pain entered his eyes. "Tell her they did everything right. And he's not someone; he's something. A demon. His father's the devil, not Miles. Not God. This is what Azazel wants you both to feel. Guilt, remorse, and shame. These are all bad feelings caused by him. Don't give in to them. Live in confidence and faith. Those are from God." Simra repeated to Ms. Hanley what Zach told her. "Tristan's very manipulative and controlling. Zach's teaching me that we're safer when we draw closer to Christ." The front door swung open, and Mandy called out Simra's name. “Sim? We’re here.” Her cousin came inside beside Lucinda with a pink polka-dotted umbrella folded up in one hand. “Grandmother, Mandy! You’re all right. I got so worried, and Tristan just caused a terrible storm.” Mandy hugged her cousin and drew away. Her eyes searched Simra’s. “Oh my! Are you all right? We just arrived. It looks like a horrible storm just left. I had to stay late to do some paperwork.” Relief swam through Simra after Mandy told her what kept her a little later than usual. “All that matters is you two are here and safe.” Mandy glanced at Ms. Hanley and back at Simra. "Is this Zach and Tristan's mother?" Ms. Hanley gave Mandy a welcoming hug. "You must be Simra's cousin. She informed me that you and your Grandmother are staying here too. It's a pleasure to finally meet you." Mandy gave her a warm smile. "It's nice to meet you too." Tears filled Ms. Hanley's eyes as she took Lucinda's hands. "Ms. Reece, I've heard so much about you from Simra. I'm so sorry about what he did to you." Lucinda mumbled unclear words, walked into the den, and sat on the couch. Simra sat down and placed her arm around their grandmother’s shoulder. She could feel Lucinda’s relaxed muscles. The woman never appeared so at ease until she was inside the lake house or near Zach. Their grandmother seemed so trusting of him. Simra's cell buzzed on the coffee table. Jeff. She answered in a rush. “Jeff?” “Sim, I'm hurt. I’m in the hospital because something strange happened to my car. It caused me to have a bad wreck. Are you all safe?” The cell slipped from her trembling hands. She gathered herself together. She placed the phone to her ear again. “We’re safe. Which hospital? Will you be all right?” Mandy bolted up from the couch. “What is it?” “I’m at St. Rest Hospital. Sim, you and Mandy shouldn’t come. Both of you stay safe with Zach. I’ll be fine.” “Zach and I are on our way,” she stated with determination. “Sim, don’t-“ Simra hung up and turned to the angel. “Take me to Jeff. He needs us. I think Tristan hurt him. The demon will kill him.” Mandy placed her hands on Simra’s shoulders, and her eyes were wide with alarm. “What happened? Is he all right?” Simra told her cousin everything. “Stay with Grandmother and Ms. Hanley. It’s dangerous out there for all of you. I’ll return to let you know how he’s doing. We need to make sure he’s all right.” Ms. Hanley stepped closer to Simra. "But it's dangerous out there. Don't you think you should stay here and just let Zach check on him?" "Zach isn't visible to Jeff. I have to find out what happened and see for myself what Tristan did," Simra replied, glancing from Ms. Hanley to Zach. “Sim, you're not going out there. Tristan probably did this. You'll get killed!” “I’m sorry, Mandy, but I need to check on him. Tristan needs to be stopped before he kills Jeff. That might be his next move. I’m going. Just stay here with Grandmother and Ms. Hanley. Have faith we’ll be all right.” Zach folded his arms across his bold chest. “Your faith has taken a wrong turn. We should talk about this. Going to see Jeff is much too dangerous for you. Your trust in God is very weak right now. Speaking to your friend over the phone is much safer than seeing him.” Simra pursed her lips together and couldn’t stop from frowning at him. “I’ll be fine. We’ll talk later. Our friend’s the one who’s in danger. I know how Tristan is, and we need to stop him before he kills Jeff. Hurry.” She rushed toward the front door in the dining area. Zach glowered at her. “You’re thinking with a reckless mind. You’re worried about Jeff, and your emotions are out of control. He’ll be fine. You won’t be safe if you throw yourself out there as bait for Azazel. That's what he wants.” “Zach, Jeff needs me whether all of you think so or not. Just take me so I can see that he’s all right.” "You're just as stubborn as your grandmother," Zach growled. Mandy followed her cousin and pleaded with her. “Sim, please don’t go. It’s much too dangerous. This might be what Tristan wants. He could’ve harmed Jeff just to get you out of the house.” Ms. Hanley nodded in agreement. "I agree with Mandy. Most likely, he plans to capture you again." Simra placed a gentle hand on her cousin’s cheek and glanced at the angel and his mom. “I’ll be fine. Maybe Zach and I can stop Tristan before he hurts Jeff again. There has to be something we can do. I need to find out exactly what happened. I promise to return with answers.” Zach squared his shoulders, and his face shadowed with darkness. “Fine. I’ll take you. Just know that Azazel could’ve done this to draw you out of hiding. My brother saw he couldn’t draw you out with the storm. He knows how much your loved ones mean to you. Jeopardizing their safety will draw you out of hiding.” Simra placed a hand on her hip. “I have to know that Jeff's going to be all right. Take me to my friend.” She slid into his arms and left Mandy, Ms. Hanley, and Lucinda in the house. Zach traveled with her in his arms to St. Rest Hospital. Dark clouds hovered across the radiant white moon until it wasn’t visible anymore. The overpowering stench of smoke almost choked Simra. The vivid city lights became dim from the fog in the distance. Lightning struck in the clouds above them. Thunder boomed near them and caused Simra’s bones to feel like they jumped out of her skin. Tristan's shadow appeared before them with a wicked laugh. The demon appeared and disappeared in different areas beside the highway. Simra's blood froze when she noticed him getting closer and closer. If she didn't destroy him soon, Simra and everyone she loved would die. Chapter 21 "And you shall say to them, 'Hear, O Israel! Today you are drawing near to do battle against your enemies. Do not lose heart, or be afraid, or panic, or be in dread of them; for it is the Lord your God who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to give you victory.'" -Deuteronomy 20:3-4 Zach held her tighter against his hard chest. “My brother’s testing you. Trust in Christ. Think of what God did for you today. He's saved you and your family's lives many times. The Father doesn't want you destroyed. The Lord has many purposes for you and your loved ones. He loves everything about you.” The angel’s sincerity pierced through her soul. Her faith transformed from nothing into a solid wall of strength. Guilt plagued Simra for blaming God. The Lord’s loving presence embraced her. She prayed a silent prayer to the heavens and thanked Him for speaking through Zach. Simra repeated the same prayers she prayed during the past two horrendous storms. The lightning streaks and thick fog disappeared. Simra nodded a silent ‘thank you’ to God and couldn’t control a content smile. There were still many questions that needed explaining. Those issues must not be thought of now; however. Her faith would be lost if she doubted the Lord again. She needed to hold on to her trust in God. He kept her safe. Focusing on making it to St. Rest safe and sound, Simra tightened her grip on the angel. “Let’s go.” “Hold on to your strong faith. It’s keeping Azazel away.” Zach dropped her to her feet in front of the hospital. “We’re here.” Zach’s eyes were fixed on the employees they passed inside the building. “I know many of these people. I saw patients here in my mortal vessel. I miss working as a doctor sometimes.” Afraid others might believe she had an imaginary friend, Simra said nothing. Grabbing his hand, she squeezed with much affection for a brief moment. Being an angel must be so devastating. He couldn't have the normal joys of a human. Becoming involved with Tristan caused enough of her own joy to be stolen. She couldn't imagine what it must have been like dealing with Tristan since the beginning of time. Simra approached the nurses’ desk. “I’m here to see Jeff Theron. He just called me and got admitted not long ago. Can you give me his room number please?” Zach looked at the nurse with recognition. “Sharon…” Simra turned a sideways glance toward him. A small tinge of jealousy burned inside of her to notice how beautiful the woman appeared. Her long brunette hair was tied in the back. The nurse’s large brown eyes gazed across the desk. Many men would probably want to date Sharon. Curiosity overwhelmed Simra if Zach ever dated her while in human form. Then again, his main priority was destroying a demon and collecting souls. Simra couldn’t refrain from inquiring about their past relationship. “You know her…well?” The nurse tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?” Zach gave Simra an amused grin. “Yes, we worked together.” He placed a gentle hand to Simra’s cheek. “I’m not a human, and we were only very good friends. I've never dated. She isn't right for me anyway.” Who is right for you? An angel awaiting your return in heaven? Is that why you turn all human women down? The questions stung the tip of Simra’s tongue, but she dared not ask. Instead, she shook her head and placed her fingers at the bridge of her nose. Simra remembered how she and Zach would never be together as a couple either. They were of different worlds. “Miss, are you all right?” The nurse leaned forward in her chair. A playful chuckle escaped from Zach, and he patted Simra on the shoulder. “Simra’s fine. Just a little jealous. That’s all.” Simra gasped, and her cheeks tingled with heat from embarrassment. “Sorry. I was thinking out loud. Never mind me.” Sharon gave her a slight nod, but her eyes remained puzzled. The nurse continued checking the computer for Jeff’s room number. “Room 215.” “Thank you.” Simra left the area in a rush and never looked back. Sharon seemed to perceive her as insane. Did the woman not believe some people communicated with angels? Maybe that’s why the angel never had feelings for her. The nurse may never believe in angels and probably couldn’t be convinced. Simra shook her head of such pathetic thoughts and squared her shoulders. They pursued walking down the hall. Zach gave her a relentless smile the entire time. A deep sigh escaped from her when they stepped into the elevator alone. An angry heat simmered Simra’s cheeks. “What on earth is so amusing?” The angel laughed and leaned against the wall of the elevator. “You embarrassed yourself back there, and you're cute.” More heat rose to her cheeks. “Stop reading my thoughts!” The aggravating smile never left his face. “I know you want answers.” “Answers to what?” “You're the only one who would be right for me. No, there's no angel or other female awaiting my return in heaven. And I turn all female mortals down because angels can't be with them. We must put all our time in completing our duties for God.” The elevator doors opened on the second floor, and the nurses’ station stood right in front of them. Simra forced a smile toward everyone they passed. She didn’t want to risk anyone else like Sharon judging her. Simra hated how she could not speak to him in public without everyone believing she'd lost her mind. She walked into Jeff’s room and saw no one but her friend there. Simra let off some steam. “If you think I’m jealous, we both know I shouldn't be. We aren’t right for each other just like you and Sharon. You’re an angel of death, and I’m only human.” She paused and added, “We’re only working together to destroy an evil demon. And never say such things to me about how I'm the only one right for you. I'm sure you said the same to Grandmother, and look how she ended up.” Jeff grunted beside them. “Sim, I told you not to come! What on earth are you talking about?” Zach interrupted her before she could reply. “There is no need for you to be jealous. I feel different about you. And no, I won't allow you to end up like Lucinda. I'm more on guard this time.” Simra bit her lip in frustration and crossed her arms across her chest. Was he implying he was more distracted by her grandmother because he'd had stronger feelings for Lucinda? She'd had enough of his games! Simra squared her jaw with defiance and stomped toward the detective. Simra couldn’t control her lips from parting in disbelief. His entire body was bruised and scratched from the car accident. “Oh, Jeff! I’m so sorry. Please tell me everything.” Jeff drew away when she tried touching his arm. “Sim, you shouldn’t be here. It’s dangerous. My entire body’s very tender. It’s bizarre how the accident happened. It’s like the car had a life of its own. The steering wheel jerked by itself, and the vehicle flipped into the ditch. I’m surprised I got out alive.” He paused and added, “I believe we’re getting close to finding Tristan’s body. I started searching for old abandoned houses around town. Suddenly, I had this feeling Tristan would find a way to stop me. I began searching anyway. That’s when I had the accident.” She couldn’t stop her lips from parting with shock, and Simra turned from Jeff to Zach. “This is all my fault. I should’ve never got you involved. Tristan almost killed you! I’m so glad you’re all right. Promise me you won’t look for him again after you’re released. Zach and I must do this on our own.” Jeff grimaced in pain when he tried to sit up in bed. “No, I won't promise you that. I’m finding his body regardless of what you say. He’ll capture you, and I won’t allow it. God's on our side, and I believe He’s the one who saved my life. Stay hidden at the lake house. Allow the angel and me to do the work. My faith is stronger than ever now because God kept me alive.” Tears filled Simra's eyes. “I’ve never been as afraid as I am now. I didn’t imagine Tristan would turn out to be this way. He’s killing his own family and trying to kill mine. What kind of person does such things?” “Demons. Allow Jeff to help. It’ll be done much quicker with more people. Like your friend said, God is on our side. The Lord protected your friend from getting killed. Have strong faith,” Zach interjected, his expression solemn. She wiped away a couple of tears falling down her cheeks. “Yeah, I suppose we need strong trust in God to protect us. I can’t help but worry about you and my family, Jeff. Tristan will try to kill anyone who gets in his way of me.” Jeff’s eyes filled with sympathy for his friend. “I know, but I don’t believe God will allow the demon to kill us. We each have a part in destroying Tristan.” Zach paced the floor on the other side of the bed and rubbed his chin. “Listen to your friend, Simra. We do need his help.” Simra turned her gaze toward the angel as he towered over Jeff. Her wild heart pounded with a longing to destroy Tristan once and for all. Tonight. She clung to her faith by recalling how God rescued her many times. The Lord also saved Jeff from being killed. Determination rose inside her to find the body. Simra’s eyes grew heavy from sleep deprivation. The round white clock across from Jeff’s bed showed it was only 9 p.m. There were many restless nights without much sleep. Her body began to grow weary. Simra blinked her eyes several times to stay awake. “Zach, let’s look for the corpse tonight. My faith’s strong right now, and you can protect me. We should be safe.” “Are you kidding me? Sim, I told you to let me take care of it. It’s not safe for you. You’re the one Tristan wants,” Jeff interrupted before Zach could respond. “Jeff, Zach and I are the only ones who can destroy the body. Remember? I just needed you to help us search for it and take care of the drug dealer.” The detective sank down into the bed with distress. “I just think we're all worrying too much about each other. You look so tired. Go home and get some rest tonight. Start fresh on the search in the morning. Maybe I’ll be out of here and well by then. Be careful out there. The cops are still looking for Quint. Watch out for that thug.” Zach gestured for Simra's hand and led her toward the exit of the room. “Your friend’s right. Let’s get back to my place so you can rest for the night. We’ll start fresh in the morning.” Simra smiled at the detective before leaving the room with Zach. “I’ll do that. Take care, Jeff. You be careful too. Hold on to your faith. Night.” "Night, Sim." As soon as they made it out of the hospital, her cell vibrated in its holder against her waist. Simra snatched the phone in hopes that Ms. Hanley, Mandy, or Lucinda were safe. She shifted her heavy eyes to Zach. It was a call from Tristan’s cell. The drug dealer might be calling to make threats since he broke out of prison. Simra lifted the phone to her ear and answered with determination. “Quint, we’ll catch you and lock you up for good this time. You won’t receive any money, and I won't let you murder anyone else. The cops will find you, and you’ll never locate where I’m hiding.” “This isn’t Quint. It’s your fiancé. Don’t look for my body. I wouldn’t send anyone else to search for it either. We're getting married soon. My brother will be sent back to heaven before anyone discovers me. I’ll kill whoever gets in my way or tries to find me,” Tristan growled from the other end of the line. The phone clicked, and the vicious demon hung up before she could reply. A deep ache filled her heart to even think about losing her loved ones, and tears burned her eyes. Simra grasped onto her tiny amount of faith with all her strength. But it faded away more each moment. Chapter 22 "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil." -Ephesians 6:11 Sunlight poured through the white lace curtains of the bedroom window and stirred Simra from her slumber. The digital clock showed 8 a.m. beside the bed. She slept very late, but she needed to catch up on her rest. The bruises didn't throb anymore on her leg. Her nose twitched to the smell of bacon and eggs coming from the kitchen. They smelled just like her grandmother used to make them. Simra's mouth watered for her grandmother's delicious breakfast. She missed waking up to Lucinda's cheesy scrambled eggs, maple bacon, and cheese toast. She slipped into a pair of blue jean shorts, a red shirt, and gold sandals after brushing her hair. Applying a light touch of makeup, she got ready for the day. Her cell buzzed from the other side of the room, and Simra rushed toward it. Mandy must be calling from the office. Her cousin left with their grandmother early this morning. Simra grabbed the phone and placed it to her ear. “Yeah? Hello?” Lucinda’s voice trembled on the other end of the line. “Azazel dangerous. Don’t allow him come too close when you end it, Honey. He do something terrible to you.” “Grandmother, is Tristan with you? Did someone dial my number for you, or did you remember it?” The dial tone hummed in Simra’s ear. Were Lucinda and Mandy in trouble? Her cousin couldn’t have dialed the number for their grandmother. The demon might be at the nursing home. Mandy wouldn't know if he was there because she couldn’t see or hear him. Simra squeezed the phone as tears streamed from her eyes. Her grandmother warned her by those exact words just before Simra broke up with Tristan. The curse must be broken, and she’d never give up hope for the elderly woman. She wouldn’t dare allow Zach to claim Lucinda’s soul. Zach needed to take her to Lucinda. Her grandmother might need her more than anything now. Simra rushed from the bedroom to find Ms. Hanley setting a plate at the table. It looked and smelled just the way Lucinda cooked it. How was that possible? Lucinda and Ms. Hanley met only recently, and her grandmother had a unique way of cooking breakfast. Ms. Hanley looked at Simra and smiled. "Simra! I made Zach's special this morning. I hope all my noise in the kitchen didn't disturb you. I know you need all the rest you can get. You looked so tired yesterday." Simra bit her lip with hesitation on what to do. She needed to find Zach and get to her grandmother. But Simra didn't want to be rude to Ms. Hanley by not eating. "Zach's special?" Ms. Hanley nodded and gestured for her to sit. "Yes, Zach had a unique way of cooking breakfast. He cooked it once for us, and I asked him to show me how he made it. He told us someone special taught him how to make it. I figured she was a girl he liked." Curiosity got the best of Simra. Maybe she could eat very fast to see if it was like Lucinda's. Then, she'd find Zach. Her stomach rumbled to devour the delicious meal. Simra sat at the table and tried the scrambled eggs first. They were cheesy and tasted like Lucinda's for certain. The cheese toast and maple bacon tasted just like her grandmother's too. Simra couldn't control a spark of anger and sadness igniting through her. "He learned this from my grandmother. She must've taught him how to cook it years ago. Thanks for breakfast, Ms. Hanley. You're too kind, but I must hurry to find Zach. I think he's outside." Simra ran outside before Ms. Hanley could respond. If he wasn't in the house, then he had to be in the yard. “Zach, please take me to Grandmother. Where are you?” Silence settled around the yard. She called Mandy to see if they were all right. Simra’s shoulders slumped when her cousin didn’t answer, which could've meant one of two things. Something terrible happened, or Mandy became much too busy to take a phone call. Her cousin always tried her best to answer Simra. She especially responded now that they were all in danger. Leaves crumbled on the ground from a short distance. Maybe only an animal drew near her. Worries about Lucinda, Zach, and Mandy caused her heart to skip several beats. Simra's breathing became erratic when Tristan appeared. A depraved grin curved across his lips. “Hi, Baby. Looking for someone?” Simra looked past him at the front door and hoped Ms. Hanley stayed inside the house. “Don’t call me that. Leave me alone.” Tristan placed a strand of hair behind her ear before she drew away. “We’ll be married soon, and I am allowed to call you that. You know, it disgusts me to see you with my pathetic brother. Now then, I know you're only attracted to him because he looks like me. He’s trying to take you away from me to have you all to himself. I won’t allow it. At least not anymore.” What a lie! If anything, that's one reason why she could not see herself with Zach. These games with the demon were getting old, and Simra blinked only to find him gone. She turned around to find Tristan smirking at her. Simra receded away from the demon. Then, he moved behind her and grabbed her hands to hold them in place. His cold breath nipped at her ear, and Tristan’s whispers were like needles of ice pricking her neck. “I got rid of Zach for good. You have no one but me now. Our future awaits us, Simra.” A deep gasp escaped from her lips, and Simra struggled to free herself from his tight grip. Tristan might be telling the truth. Zach could be found nowhere. Then again, she should trust nothing the demon said. “I don’t believe you, Tristan. Zach’s coming for me.” Tristan threw his head back and laughed. “If that’s so, why hasn’t he already come? I don't sense him anywhere, and I’m certain you don't either. You're engaged to me. Zach’s gone forever and isn’t returning to this world.” Simra’s eyes burned with tears at the anguishing thought of never seeing Zach again. Tristan must be telling the truth. Some of what he said was true so far. The angel would’ve shown up to save her by now. Lucinda’s last words caused a harsh ache in her heart. Tristan was dangerous, and Simra needed to stay as far away from him as possible. She strained to free herself from the demon, but she couldn't escape his powerful grasp. “Release me! I don’t want to be with you anymore. I will destroy you with or without Zach.” “It’s too late for that, Simra. I’m taking you with me now, and we’ll be together for always. There’s nothing you can do about it.” He gathered her into his powerful arms and carried her away until thunder roared over them. The brutal winds stirred around them, and jagged streaks of lightning lit up the sky. It caused Tristan to stop. This indicated the demon didn’t cause the bad weather. The storm did not seem as violent as the ones Tristan made. Another angel must be stopping him, or it might be God. The demon’s eyes glowed, and anger boiled in them. He turned in every direction with Simra still in his arms. “You’re not ruining my plans this time! Where are you? There’s no need to hide.” Zach’s powerful voice came from behind them, and the angel gave Tristan a hard shove. “I’m right here, brother, and your plans aren’t of God’s will. Therefore, they shall not come to pass.” Tristan released Simra and stumbled to the ground. Jealousy and rage fumed in the demon's glowing eyes when she rushed into Zach’s arms. “Simra, come back to me.” She ignored Tristan’s hideous face and clung to the angel. “Tristan told me another lie, and I fell for it again. He makes them sound so believable. I thought you were gone forever.” Zach drew her close in his protective arms. “I promise I’m all right. Lying is what demons do best.” She dared taking another look at Tristan. Her heart dropped to her stomach when she found him gone. “Did he leave?” Zach’s gaze shifted in all directions as though searching where the demon might be hiding. “He’s not gone. Go back to the house where it’s safe. I must send him away.” She broke into a mad run toward the lake house. Zach groaned in pain behind her before she got too far. Simra turned around to see what happened. She started to run toward the angel. Tristan mumbled with his hand resting on his brother’s head. The angel rushed into the thicket and disappeared as a shadow. Tears flowed down her cheeks. She didn’t know if Zach was gone forever or sent away by him. Simra started running toward the house without looking back but crashed into Tristan. A wicked grin tugged at his lips. She tried to conceal a deafening cry for help. Her body grew limp from the dread building within her. Simra could not escape from the powerful demon on her own. It didn’t matter how much she attempted to fight him. Tristan drew her into his arms and carried her from the lake so fast that her head spun with dizziness. “I’m taking you where no one will ever find us.” Simra closed her eyes in an attempt to avoid her head from spinning. Opening them when it stopped, she saw the inside of a large old abandoned home. Tristan stood beside her with his hand resting on a dusty fireplace. The aged house must have been deserted for many years. Thick dust smothered the stairs except for a few footprints on them. A faint rotten scent caused her stomach to churn. Maybe Tristan’s body was hidden here. She saw no furniture. Someone had scribbled symbols across the walls of the home. Cold whispers of evil breathed against her ears. Simra gazed outside the windows but didn’t recognize her surroundings. She needed to get out of there somehow. Her family might be in danger with Quint. Maybe that's why Mandy didn't answer. She turned to Tristan and saw a devious grin across his face. “Where am I?” His depraved laugh caused bitterness to grasp her heart with its icy hands. He lifted her chin with his finger. “Zach’s gone forever, and no one will ever find you. I’ll be certain you never escape.” Chapter 23 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths." -Proverbs 3:5-6 The angel opened his eyes to see the thicket around him. “What happened?” he groaned and held his head with a hand. Then, he recalled being sent away by Azazel's demonic prayer. The lake's crystal water shimmered beneath the late afternoon sun. Simra was nowhere in the area. Zach rushed into the lake house to see his mom praying in tears. "Lord, speak to me on what I can do. If Simra's in danger, please surround her with Your love and protection. Protect her family-" Zach raced from the lake house to find Simra. Azazel took her, and it was all Zach’s fault. The angel let his brother get the best of him. He searched the entire city for Simra and found her nowhere. Zach looked in other places outside of Longview and still discovered no trace. He searched everywhere. Azazel could not even be traced. The demon must have already taken her to his world. The angel’s anger smoldered hot. A persistent hope consumed him to never give up on finding Simra. God sent Zach to stop his brother before Azazel took a bride. He refused to fail Him again! The angel wouldn’t allow the demon to become any more powerful by marrying Simra. Azazel would be stopped before it became too late, and Zach wasn’t finished with him! Rage ignited in him, and Zach dashed across town to see Lucinda. Did Mandy and Jeff know about Simra's disappearance? Maybe the older woman knew of Tristan's whereabouts. Perhaps Tristan stopped by to torment her before capturing Simra. Zach arrived in the woman’s room and stepped in front of her to stop her pacing. Instantly, he saw the worry in her mind about Simra. Zach placed his hands on her shoulders to stop Lucinda’s fretful steps and gave her an intense gaze. “Lucinda, I promise I'll find her. Has Azazel been here?” Her tangled words were wild with panic, and Lucinda’s faded eyes widened more. The woman's knuckles were white from clenching them so tight. Lucinda didn’t look him in the eyes but shook her compressed fists. She snatched the collar of his black polo shirt. “Hisss houssse!” She began throwing objects around the room, and much anger seethed from her eyes. Several nurses rushed in with medication, and Mandy followed them. He gazed at Simra's cousin. He noted how she knew not of Simra's disappearance. However, Mandy started to sense something wasn't right. His mom must not have known Mandy's number. Lucinda slapped the drugs from their hands and refused to take anything. She and Simra were just alike. They were both determined to keep their family safe. Zach knew they wouldn’t rest until they were certain each other was out of danger. Another nurse raced into the room with a shot as two others held her down. Lucinda continued mumbling unclear words until she was knocked out into a deep sleep. Zach placed his hand across the older woman’s brow and bent down. He whispered a ‘thank you’ in her ear. Zach turned to leave after the nurses left her there to rest. “I’ll rescue your granddaughter and stop Azazel, Lucinda. I promise,” Zach whispered before leaving to go to the house he saw in Lucinda's thoughts. The angel raced to the old abandoned house that still haunted him from many years ago. Returning would bring him much pain. But he had to save Simra. Zach tried walking inside, but a shield of darkness stopped him. The place was protected well by demonic prayers. One of God’s angels wouldn’t be able to enter. Only Jeff could go inside, and he was still in the hospital. The corpse had to be in there too. That's why it was so difficult to find. Zach got reminded in an instant of what God sent him to do years ago. The demon must be stopped now. This was the angel’s last chance to destroy Azazel before he married Simra. Zach waited for this moment for years. Many people would die if Tristan forced her to become his bride. Zach wanted a life with her. Somehow. He began to sense God brought them to work together for more than one reason. Zach's love felt wrong for Lucinda, but his love felt very right for Simra. But he had to be mistaken. Angels and mortals couldn't combine. Only the Lord knew the future. All Zach could do now was trust God and hope for His will to pass. Plans to save Simra began to unravel in his mind. Somehow, he must get through to Jeff about the abandoned house. Azazel could be drawn out of the house long enough for Simra to escape. Then again, the demon had everything he wanted there inside the house. He had Simra. Nothing could draw him out of the house. Zach's only hope was getting through to Jeff or Mandy. It may be too late to stop Azazel. The demon might have already forced her into marriage. Zach was knocked out far too long. A painful ache rose in his heart for the beautiful woman and what she must be enduring with his cruel, manipulative brother. Azazel made certain Zach couldn't get to Simra in this house like the angel rescued Lucinda here years ago. Zach knew his brother wanted to make sure he got his way this time. Chapter 24 "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." - John 16:33 The decayed odor suffocated Simra inside the place and almost choked her. The body must be somewhere in the house. Her sanity slipped deeper into darkness after spending so long with the demon. Simra spent two days in the old dusty home. She began to lose all hope of anyone finding her. Tristan had food stored in the house to keep her fed. Simra fought tears from misting her eyes. She refused to believe Zach was in heaven. Were Jeff and her family still alive? Quint might have already murdered them by now. The demon placed a gentle hand to Simra’s cheek, and his gaze softened. “There's no reason to worry, baby. Everything is fine. We’ll be married soon.” His lips tugged into a smile. Simra jerked away from the vile demon. “You've created nothing but chaos for me and my family. You’re a danger to everyone, and I don't believe anything you say. I’m not marrying you. I’ll escape, and I will destroy you.” “I’m sorry about the chaos, princess, but I had to go to great lengths to have you. I hate to spoil your expectations of destroying me. You won’t escape. I've waited too long for you, and I will have you.” Instead of showing rage, Tristan remained calm. He kept showing an apologetic smile. “I'm not your possession!” A sob lodged in her throat, and she held back tears from falling. Tristan's eyes danced with delight. “I’ve always admired that about you. Determination and defiance. Zach didn’t enjoy like those traits about you. You never listened to him, and he couldn’t stand it. Besides, he wanted to collect your grandmother’s soul.” Simra’s cheeks fumed with heat from the anger building within her, but her stomach churned with disgust. “You admire me because I remind you of Grandmother. That’s what drew you to me. You’re sick. You mean nothing to me, and you’re only trying to turn me against your brother.” Tristan chuckled from amusement. “I fell in love with a strong, caring, beautiful, and innocent woman when I saw you. Not because you reminded me of Lucinda. I knew we belonged together. Now then, Zach wanted to collect your soul too. Of course, there's no need to worry about him now. You have me to protect you. Zach's a liar. If he's the twin of a fallen angel, how can he be good?” A sick feeling nauseated Simra to realize how there could be truth in that, but she lifted her chin in defiance. “If that's true, why am I getting closer to God since I met him?” Tristan’s smile faded, and he took slow steps toward Simra. The demon clasped her hands in his. “That's what he wanted you to think he was doing. But he was a wolf in sheep's clothing." Sadness filled his dark blue eyes. "I don’t know how to take back the wrongs I’ve done to you and your family. I’d like to spend forever making it up to you. You won’t have to worry about how I disappear anymore. I’ve made several horrible decisions in trying to win you back since my death. I promise to make it right starting now.” Simra squared her shoulders. “It's a little late for apologies. I don’t wish to discuss it anymore.” Her worries about the people she loved ran rapid. Where was Quint while Tristan kept her all to himself? The drug dealer might be slaughtering Jeff and her family right now. Lucinda was the main one in danger since Simra was closest to her. She must find a way to get to her grandmother as fast as possible. Tristan framed her face with his cold hands. “You’re worried about Lucinda. No one will bother her. I promise. Would you like me to check on her for you?” “No! Stay away from her. You’re the last one I trust around Grandmother. You placed the horrible curse on her in the first place.” Simra jerked free from the demon, and her heart dropped at how he read her thoughts. Tristan drew back in surprise. “The spell became out of hand. I didn’t intend for it to get this bad. I only meant for it to wash away her memory of me and my awful deeds. I’ll just go check on her and report back on how she’s doing. I won’t harm her, nor will anyone else. I’ll return with answers on how she’s doing. Promise.” Trying with all her might not to believe him, Simra bit her lip in frustration. “Please don’t.” “I know you want me to, Simra. I can see into that pretty little head of yours. I’ll be back.” Tristan rested a cold hand on her cheek with a tender smile across his lips. He rushed from the upstairs bedroom and locked the door behind him. Tristan locked her inside the room. He must have lied to her about just checking on Lucinda. The hideous demon might be going to kill her grandmother! Tears burned Simra’s eyes, and she hurried to the bedroom window to study her surroundings. It would lead her onto a balcony if she shattered the glass. The window could be broken for a way of escape. Simra searched for any objects around the room. Her traveling gaze stopped on a wooden plank on the floor. She grabbed it and slammed it against the hard window. Simra gasped from surprise when the glass refused to break. It didn’t shatter after several attempts. Tristan must have placed a curse on the house to hold her inside. Simra leaned against the wall and groaned in astonishment and frustration. She stumbled backward when the wall moved. A trap door opened. It must have led out of the dusty old bedroom. The floorboards creaked beneath her feet. Simra climbed through the mildewed tiny corridor and held her breath. The rotten stench was so strong through the trap door that she tasted it, and it caused her to gag. The door to another room creaked open, and the exit led down the stairs. Tristan’s body must be hidden well, but she had no time to look for it. Simra rushed to the entrance of the house. The door wouldn't open. She almost got lost inside the huge place but made it to the back. The backdoor wouldn’t open either. None of the doors could be unlocked. The red writings and symbols on the walls caused her head to spin. There were so many that they almost sent her deep into a revolting dizziness. Nausea choked her, and she ached to get out of the stuffy house as soon as possible. Simra searched until she found a sunroom. Glass windows expanded across every wall. A long wooden table stood in the center with stakes bound at each corner. She held back a gasp of horror and disgust. Simra’s wild heart jumped at the thought of what Tristan did in this room. She caught of glimpse of a large opening in the shattered windows. Simra made a quick escape before Tristan returned. She bolted from the house and never stopped running. The ancient place was a white plantation house. She turned to look at the street signs and realized her location. Simra slid her trembling hand into her pocket to grab her cell. Mandy needed to pick her up. Simra started dialing her cousin's number and continued running. She gazed in the direction of the eerie home where Tristan would return soon to find her gone. Her lips parted open to scream before she dialed the last digit. Simra crashed into someone in front of her, and she stumbled backward. Her steady gaze traveled up the familiar faded blue jeans and white t-shirt. There were the calm blue eyes of the demon. Tristan reached his hand out for her. She drew away from him and bolted up. Simra attempted to make another run for it. He caught her wrist behind her before she got away. The demon pulled her so close that his lips were only a cold breath away. “Don’t make this any more difficult on yourself. It doesn’t matter how much you attempt to run or hide. I’ll find and catch you. Give it up. Now then, I have news to give you about your grandmother. Come.” Simra struggled to free herself from his tight grip and drew in a sharp breath when he picked her up. Tristan carried her over his shoulder like a delicate feather. She hammered her fists against his hard back, and her breathing became weak. She would not give up that easily! If Simra had found the sunroom in time, she would’ve escaped. Tristan didn’t travel at the speed of light back to the house. He set her on her feet and shut the front door behind them. “Why didn’t you carry me as fast as you did when you brought me here? You took your time.” Simra glanced from the entrance to him. Tristan’s lips tugged into quick smile, and he placed a cold hand to her cheek. “I enjoy holding you. I just want to be close to you.” She tried ignoring the unbearable thought of never seeing Zach again. Then again, Tristan and his brother were no good for her. But she fought back tears at the thought of losing Zach. Regardless of what Tristan said about him, she felt a difference in her heart for the angel than Tristan. Was it true love? Simra shifted her gaze away from him to distract herself. “Did you hurt Grandmother?” Tristan placed a hand on her shoulder to soothe her and lifted Simra’s chin with a finger. “Lucinda's resting at the nursing home. She appeared very calm in her sleep. I give you my word, and I didn’t do anything to her. I only checked on her for you.” He paused and framed Simra's face in his hands. “Just try to trust me. I know it’s difficult to believe me because I’m a fallen angel. But I’m making changes beginning now. I know what I did through the years and recently angered you. But I want to start over. Just give me a chance.” She'd given him one chance too many to make things right, and he knew it. What a creep! Simra faked a considerate smile. Her heart raced when an idea popped into her head. After gaining the demon’s trust, she might be left alone again at some point. Next time might be her final escape. Maybe he’d stop being so clingy. They needed to burn Tristan’s body when she returned with someone. The only problems were Quint and the demon. “I’m considering it, Tristan, but you need to treat me with perfection and nothing like you did in the past. Thank you for checking on Grandmother for me. You’re showing a little progress, but you must prove much more to me. It’ll take a lot of time to show me how you’ve changed.” He enveloped her in his embrace, and his cold breath breathed into her hair. “I’ll do my best to please you. You’re my world, but you won’t escape if you try.” Simra shivered at his last words and drew away from him with a fake smile. “Thank you, Tristan.” Her gaze traveled up and down the staircase. “Why does this place seem to hold such powers? What do these symbols represent?” The demon sat in one of the chairs near the edge of the wall. He motioned for her to take a seat in the other one next to him. “This house was abandoned years ago but in much better condition. I discovered the place, and Lucinda and I decided to begin our lives together here. We came here, but Zach ruined it. The symbols protect us.” He spoke like Lucinda willingly came with him here. If liars' pants really caught on fire, his pants would cause a big flaming explosion! Disgust coursed through Simra's veins when she remembered the sunroom. What did Tristan do to her precious grandmother in there? “What happened? Did you and Zach occupy different human forms then?” “We’re thousands of years old. Although our bodies look young and appear human, our actual forms look very different. We were still in the Hanley generation during your grandmother's time. Our mortal forms looked the same as now. "I left when Lucinda made it clear that she didn't want to marry me. She decided that she wanted Zach. Then, Zach broke her heart. I placed a spell on her so she wouldn't remember me. But it got out of hand. Then, you came along years later, and I returned by another Hanley down the line. I fell even more in love with you. But Zach wanted you too.” Simra hid her anger. Two could play at this game of tricks. “Where'd you and Zach go after Grandmother rejected you?” “We returned to the other side and waited. I knew you'd come along soon.” Shifting in her seat, Simra grew uncomfortable in the hard chair. This led to such a bizarre conversation with her ex-fiancé. “Why'd you choose me and Grandmother?” Tristan framed her face in his hands. “You're the most beautiful and caring woman I've ever known. Most importantly, you don't desire things of the world. You're not worldly like other mortal women. I want to marry you, and I want us to have many children. Our family will be very powerful. We’ll be happy, and I promise to treat you right. If you marry me, I’ll give you everything your heart’s ever desired. You’re like an angel who fell from heaven by accident. Your innocence and beauty can’t be described.” His astounding description of her stole Simra’s breath away. At loss for words, she fought becoming lost in his eyes. She remembered how he lied to her so many times. Her breath caught in her throat when he pulled her close. His cold lips met hers in a lingering kiss. Their memories together unraveled through her mind when they were happy and carefree. Tears filled her eyes when she realized how much she loved him then. Simra also remembered how he destroyed her love for him. Regardless of what he tried to prove, their relationship would never be revived. Tristen jerked away from her, and his furious eyes glowed like flames. “Someone’s up to trouble. I’m tending to it. Stay here. I’ll come back.” He fled the house and slammed the door behind him. She broke down in hysterical sobs from the haunted memories. She held her head in her hands and gathered all the strength within her to pray. Surely God could hear her in this evil, dirty place. “Lord, please give me the strength to overcome this and fill my heart with the truth. Thank You for helping me throughout my life. Amen.” Simra brushed the warm tears away with her hand and sighed when warmth filled her soul. She squared her shoulders in determination to escape once more. Maybe Tristan wouldn’t catch her and bring her back to this place again. Shivers of dread slithered down her spine to think about what the demon may do to her if he caught her again. Someone must have really angered her ex-fiancé. Although her stomach twisted in revulsion to think of returning, Simra knew she must. Tristan’s corpse needed to be destroyed. Chapter 25 "But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one." - II Thessalonians 3:3 Simra ran as fast as possible from the dreary old home until she made it to the courthouse. She leaned against the brick wall to catch her breath. She already called Mandy to pick her up at the courthouse. Expecting Tristan to appear any moment, a cold fear enveloped her. Simra’s heart pounded when her cousin’s tires squealed into the parking lot. Mandy jumped out of the car and reached down to frame Simra's face. Mandy’s eyes were wide with panic, and her gaze raked over Simra. “Did he hurt you?” Simra drew away from her cousin and hurried into the vehicle as Mandy followed her. “I’m fine. He didn’t harm me, but I think he’s hurting someone else we know. You called Jeff recently?” Lucinda was in the backseat with her eyes wide and mumbled unclear words. Simra reached to squeeze her close. Warmth enveloped Simra's heart to know they were all right. Whoever distracted Tristan must have made him very angry. That person was in great danger. Simra prayed it wasn’t Jeff or anyone else she loved. “Yeah, I just spoke to him. You think Zach’s okay? Where should we go?” “Zach would’ve come for me much sooner if he was still here.” Tears misted Simra’s eyes to think of never seeing him again. “Take us to the lake house. We’ll be safe there until I can retrieve matches and gasoline.” “Oh my, Sim! What are you planning?” “I’m going back to that house, finding Tristan’s body, and destroying it. I’m talking to Pastor Mervin again too. I know those bones were there because I smelled something rotting.” Mandy almost swerved off the road and turned to her cousin with her mouth agape. “Sim, no! You can’t go back! Tristan might hurt or kill you, and we'll never see you again. Are you insane?” “I need to destroy him once and for all. It’s the only way everything will return to normal. Sometimes, we have to take risks to overcome the evil in our lives. With God’s help, it can be done.” Mandy raked her fingers through her short burgundy hair reaching her neck. She took several glances from the road to Simra. “You’ve got a point, but you shouldn’t go back to that house. Tristan's dangerous. He’ll kill you.” “I know the risks, Mandy, but he has to be stopped. God will protect us. It must be done, and I’ll need your help.” Simra had to obtain the ingredients tonight. “I’ll do anything you ask, Cousin. But I would much rather do everything for you than allow you to be in danger.” Mandy pulled into the driveway of the lake house and parked the car. “What should we do now?” Simra remained motionless for a moment and gazed up at the house. “I’m taking a warm shower to wash this awful stench off me. We have to find gasoline and matches somewhere.” “Great. You clean up, and I’ll get the ingredients. Grandma can stay here with you and Ms. Hanley.” Simra placed a hand on her cousin’s shoulder. “No, that isn’t wise. We should get them together.” “Sim, no, you're not coming with me regardless of what you say. Your only part is destroying the body, and I really don’t approve of you doing that. But I know no one else can, except you. Go take a shower, and pray for my protection.” Realizing she would get nowhere by arguing with her stubborn cousin, Simra sighed in frustration. “Oh alright, but please be careful. Be quick about it, and hurry back.” “Cousin, don’t worry. You’re the one he’s chasing. Trust in God.” Mandy seemed to force a smile. Simra opened the car door, got out, helped their grandmother from the vehicle, and turned to Mandy. “I’ll pray and have faith. Call me if you run into any trouble.” She shut the door and walked inside the house with Lucinda. Ms. Hanley rushed toward Simra and Lucinda with tears in her eyes. "Simra! Are you all right? We've been so worried. Did Tristan hurt you?" Simra squeezed Ms. Hanley with an affectionate hug and couldn't control her own tears. "He didn't hurt me. I'm just so tired and dirty. I was afraid I'd never see any of you again. I need a shower." Ms. Hanley rested a hand on Simra's cheek. "I'm so glad you're okay. Of course, dear. I'll cook you up something. I bet you're starved." Simra's mouth watered at the thought of a delicious home-cooked meal. "That sounds great! Zach has such a wonderful mom. Thank you so much." Ms. Hanley smiled as Simra took Lucinda in the den and turned on the television to occupy her. Her grandmother sat on the couch with her eyes wide. Simra gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder. She tried avoiding the unbearable pain in her heart to know what her grandmother endured. Wiping away a few tears, Simra straightened herself up. She grabbed some clean clothes from her suitcase and walked into the bathroom. She took a relaxing hot shower to overcome the troubling thoughts of what could have happened to Zach. Guilt would plague her forever to know that Tristan sent him back. Tears fell from her eyes at the thought of never seeing Zach again. Simra prayed in silence for God to watch over Mandy. She stepped out of the steamy shower. She dried off with a plush turquoise towel and changed into her clean dress. Simra inhaled a deep breath of cedar and evergreen. She missed the delightful comforts of being clean and at home. Home. Zach’s place seemed like home, and she felt they shared it together. Shaking her head of such thoughts, she tried to forget having a life with him. He wasn’t human. It would never happen. Besides, he was gone forever. She stepped into the kitchen to smell pork chops, rice with homemade gravy, purple hull peas, and sweet cornbread being cooked. Ms. Hanley was outdoing herself! Simra glanced at the ticking clock. 7 p.m. Night grew near. Going back into that house would be more than dangerous. Ms. Hanley turned around and smiled at her. "I hope you like it. It's my southern home cooking!" Simra's stomach growled for several bites. "I can't wait! You're too nice. Did Zach cook this too?" A familiar laugh came from behind Simra and distracted her from hearing Ms. Hanley. "I never cooked it as well as Mom, but I did learn to cook it." “Zach! Where have you been? It’s been days! Why didn’t you come and find me before now?” Ms. Hanley rushed toward them. "Zach's here?" Simra gazed at her and nodded with joyful tears. "He's here." The angel caressed her cheek, and his concerned gaze raked over her. “Did Azazel harm you in any way? Are you hurt? I apologize for not being able to get to you. The two of you were shielded from me. The place he held you is protected by demonic symbols and prayers to keep an angel of God’s from it.” He paused and added, “I did pay a visit to Quint and found a way to distract my demon brother for a while. He needs the drug dealer as a human to do his killing. Azazel came to protect him in a rush when he sensed Quint was in danger.” Simra combed her fingers through her damp hair. There were still answers she needed from Zach. She explained what Tristan told her. The brothers were very skilled at keeping secrets. There might be many more facts about them to be discovered. “Is it true that you want to collect my soul too?” "What?" Ms. Hanley paled. Simra glanced at his mom, who had returned cooking. But what Simra asked Zach appeared to have stunned her. Zach looked from Simra to his mom. Ms. Hanley appeared to try not to look worried. "I'm sorry, dear. I'll let you two talk. But I'm sure Tristan's trying to scare you with lies." She resumed cooking. Zach stood in silence for several moments and looked lost in deep thought. “No, Azazel wants to collect your soul. He's an angel of death who works for Satan. I collect human souls and bring them to Christ. I also destroy certain demons like him. During the marriage ceremony, he plans to collect your soul. It's quite a story what he plans for you. Are you sure you want to hear it?" “Please. I need to know what I'm up against." "He'll collect your soul during the marriage ceremony but keep you alive. You'll be raped several times and become pregnant many times with half-demon children. He'll teach your children ways to become powerful and rich. They'll go throughout the world and rule over many places. Most might become presidents and leaders. Many terrible things will happen. The world will be destroyed. God sent you and me to team up and stop it. We’ll stop Tristan from marrying you and destroy him.” Zach’s reassuring gaze softened toward her. Simra's blood ran cold at the thought. “That's terrible. I refuse to let that happen. And what of me when I die? Where will my soul go?” Zach sat in silence, and his face became void of expression. “That’s between you and God. Are you following Him? Have you accepted Him to come inside your heart? Do you have a strong relationship with Him? Do you believe and trust in Him with all your heart and how His Son died for your sins?” Simra’s heart dropped to her knees when she answered all his questions in silence. Simra didn’t have the strong relationship she needed with Him. But she did believe in Him and His Son. Pain gnawed at her insides just to remember the awful tragedies Tristan caused. How could God allow him to cause such damage? She blamed God for everything that happened and walked away from Him without even realizing it. “Your brother can't have me!” she snapped. The thought of Tristan claiming her soul caused shivers to tickle her spine. The angel rested a hand on her cheek. “There’s no reason to be afraid. We’ll destroy Azazel.” His expression grew solemn. “I’ll give you some advice about God. Let go of the past and what haunts you. Your soul will be trapped forever if you don’t let go of a dead memory. There's a reason for everything. Some reasons are very difficult to understand, but you'll understand someday.” How could such a charming, loving, and handsome man be something so grim and deadly? And she was falling in love with him! Loving Death frightened her. Simra’s bones almost jumped out of her skin when her phone buzzed against the kitchen table. She gave the angel a dark frown when a careless chuckle escaped from his lips. He must've read her thoughts. She took a peek to see who called her and answered in a rush. Mandy. Only static screeched on the other end of the line. Her heart dropped from panic. “Mandy? Mandy, you all right?” The loud noise faded, and her cousin shouted through the phone. “Sim! Can you hear me now?” “Yeah. Go ahead.” “I had a wreck, and I’m not certain how it happened. It’s so similar to the way Jeff described his accident. You think the demon caused it?” Simra felt the blood drain from her face. There was no doubt Tristan caused it. She needed to get to Mandy without Tristan catching her and fast! Chapter 26 "In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." -Ephesians 6:16-17 Simra’s stomach twisted to think the worst. “Are you hurt? Are you stuck? Tristan did this and is trying to stop us. Where are you?” Her cousin groaned in pain on the other end of the line. “I’m just a little hurt, but the car’s stuck. I can’t drive it out of the ditch. I’m about a mile or two up the dirt road from the lake house.” Simra covered the phone with her hand and turned to Zach. She begged him in desperation. “Can you please drag Mandy's car out of the ditch?” “I’m an angel, Simra. Not human. I can’t do such things. Maybe there's someone with a truck who can do this.” He closed his eyes and prayed for Mandy's protection and for help. Simra uncovered the phone, and her trust in God grew strong again. She only focused on bringing her cousin to safety. “Mandy, we'll find a way to get you home. I just know it.” Simra's phone beeped while she comforted her cousin. Someone else called. Her knees grew weak as she expected the worst of calls to be Tristan or Quint. Relief shot through her when she saw the detective’s name on the screen. She hung up with Mandy to answer his call. “Jeff?” “Sim, I spoke to Mandy earlier. She told me about Tristan capturing you. Are you all right? I’m out of the hospital now and feeling great. I’m back on the job. Where’s this abandoned house? We should all go there together.” Simra smiled to know her friend was better, but her shoulders slumped from guilt dominating her. Jeff and her family were still in great danger. Tristan might succeed in killing them soon. Simra’s faith in God was weak. It wasn’t safe for anyone she loved to be involved with helping her anymore. Jeff and Mandy were only injured the first time. But Tristan would murder them next if they continued helping her. “I’m fine. Mandy's not." Simra explained what happened and how they needed someone to drag the car out of the ditch. She gave him directions. "I don’t want you two involved anymore. You’ve already seen how it’s much too dangerous. Tristan almost killed you. You and Mandy should stay at the lake house with me. He can't get to you here.” “I'm sending someone on their way to help Mandy. Don’t beg me to stay out of this because I won’t, Sim. I'm already involved, and I’m trained for such dangerous situations. You, Ms. Reece, and Mandy are my family. Now I’m doing everything in my power to stop this madness.” “You aren’t trained for fighting a demon and keeping him from killing you.” Simra fought back tears from the sharp emotions cutting her to pieces. “Sim, I can handle it. You have to trust me. Tristan caught me off guard. I’m more prepared for him this time. I'm wearing the armor of God. I know the demon’s out there waiting to strike, and I'm ready for him this time.” Simra became unable to refrain from breaking down into continuous sobs. She wiped her tears with a tissue. Penetrating fears shot deep through her like a thousand arrows. They were worries about her loved ones, her own soul, her destination, and breaking her grandmother’s curse. Would Tristan ever be stopped? Regardless of what Simra or anyone else did, nothing could ever be the same again. Jeff tried to soothe his friend on the other end of the line. “There’s no reason to be concerned about me. I promise everything will be fine once the demon’s destroyed. But you have to let me and Mandy help you.” Simra began to tell him that it was almost impossible that all of them would get through this alive, but the phone clicked. “Jeff? You still there?” No one replied on the other end of the line. He must have had enough of debating about the situation and hung up. Then again, it wasn’t like him to do such a thing. Ms. Hanley finished setting the table and came to Simra with worry in her eyes. "Simra, I couldn't help overhearing your conversation. I have my car. Should I pick up Mandy?" Zach interrupted them before Simra could respond. "Absolutely not! That's Azazel's plan. He wants to draw one of you out of the house to kill or capture you. It's best that you both stay here. Help is on the way sooner than Jeff's people can get there. I sense it." Simra's heart pounded at what Zach said. What he said made perfect sense. She repeated it to Ms. Hanley. "There's someone on their way to help Mandy. For now, I must find out why I lost connection with Jeff." Simra glanced at Zach, who gazed at her with intensity. Her heart jumped at the thought of Tristan doing something horrible to Jeff again. She squeezed the cell in her hand and started redialing his number. Zach took the phone from her firm grip. “I caused the call to end. Allow the detective and Mandy’s assistance. But have strong faith in God as you pray for their safety. They must trust Him too. I’ll protect them to the best of my ability. We need all the help we can get. Jeff should keep an eye on the drug dealer. Your cousin will bring us the ingredients to destroy the body.” Simra shook her head with aggression. “No. I’m sorry, but I can’t allow them to be involved anymore. Tristan will kill them! He’s already tried.” Zach took bold steps toward her and squared his shoulders. “If you’d like this madness with the demon to end well for you and your loved ones, you’ll let them help." Simra tried to hide the excruciating fear of him by lifting her chin in much defiance. “Your threats toward me and my family don’t scare me, nor do you. My faith will grow stronger, and I’ll protect them to the best of my ability." Zach’s lips tugged into a smile, and he chuckled as though amused by her outburst. “I made no threats to your family. I only said your loved ones might be harmed by Azazel or emotionally damaged if you don’t allow them to help. I wouldn’t dare hurt them because I’m here to protect all of you. You can't do all this on your own. “Your emotions and worries are running rampant, Simra. Take a moment to rest your mind and gather your thoughts back into place. You can't take everything into your own hands and believe it's all up to you. You must allow others and God to help.” “What are you saying, Zach? Are you trying to tell me that I'm not capable of getting the job done?” “You can't do it on your own. No angel or human can without teamwork and Christ involved. It's impossible. You must stop worrying so much and focus on the mission, which is destroying Azazel.” “I'm fine!” “Stop deceiving yourself. You aren’t.” Zach's mom walked into the restroom and left the two bickering. Simra fidgeted with her hands behind her back and dared stepping closer to him. She made a continuous attempt to hide her building panic. “Zach, please hand over my phone, and let me return Jeff’s call. He’s probably very worried about me. Especially if he knows I’m alone with Death.” Zach held out the cell with a grin of mischief across his face. He jerked it back when she tried snatching it from him. She almost stumbled into the angel when he drew closer to her and leaned down. Simra’s heart hammered against her chest when he whispered against her lips. “You even make me weak when you’re being stubborn.” Her cheeks grew hot from his outspoken adoration of her. The light brush of his kiss lasted in the blink of an eye. Her knees became weak beneath her. He was such an alluring angel who captivated her soul. She never felt the same way for Tristan. Her feelings for the angel just seemed 'right', but she knew they weren’t. “Simra, promise you’ll try to stop worrying if I give you the phone. Promise to allow your loved ones to assist you. Mandy’s faith will grow stronger just like Jeff’s has.” Simra placed her hand on the chair to steady herself. Zach's kiss made her so weak that she almost couldn't stand. “I promise.” She nodded with reluctance. “Good. Thank you.” Zach gave the phone back to her. He eased down in his seat at the table. She redialed Jeff’s number, and the detective answered in a rush. “Sim, what happened?” “It’s all right, Jeff. I lost you for a minute, but everything’s fine. I'll allow you to help. How soon do you think help will arrive for Mandy? I'm worried about her." Mandy rushed through the front door before their friend replied, and her cousin's eyes were wide from panic. “Is that Jeff? Tell him I made it. One of the neighbors came with a pickup truck and offered assistance. He lives a couple miles up the road.” “I’m so glad you’re all right,” Simra whispered. She relayed the message to their friend. "Great! I'll get in contact with the men I asked to help Mandy. I'll tell them to forget about it and that she's all right. For now, I'm going to find Quint. I have a feeling I know where he is. I'll call you back a little later to get with you on when we'll destroy the body," Jeff replied. Simra smiled at the thought of Quint being arrested again. "That sounds great! Later." She hung up the phone. Ms. Hanley came into the room with relief in her eyes. "Oh, you're all right! I'm so glad. We were very worried." Mandy explained to Ms. Hanley what happened and squeezed Simra with an affectionate hug. “Sim, you’ve been crying. What is it? Were you that worried about me?” Ms. Hanley squeezed Simra with a hug as well. "She's worried about her family." Simra embraced Ms. Hanley and fought the looming thoughts of never seeing them again if something happened. “Yeah, I am. I’ll be fine.” Simra needed to destroy that body tonight before something else happened. It would get much worse. After Ms. Hanley released her, Mandy squeezed Simra's shoulders. “There’s no need to worry so much about me, Honey. I’m okay. I got so scared on the way here, but God saved my life. I owe Him for that. But you and Zach must know something. Is he still here?” Relief washed through Simra to know about Mandy’s faith in the Lord. She nodded and took a quick glimpse at Zach. Simra almost forgot how other people could not see him and Tristan. “Yeah, he’s here.” Mandy took her cousin’s hands and squeezed them with her eyes wavering. “I became unconscious from bumping my head on the steering wheel in the wreck. I dreamed something which felt and looked so real. I sense it’s really happening. I also notice there is a storm outside just like in the vision. I saw Tristan digging up a grave in St. Memory Cemetery. It was his brother’s. He was about to set fire to the body and claimed to be sending him back to heaven. The demon wants Zach out of the way for good so he can have you all to himself.” Chapter 27 "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." -Psalm 34:18 The raging storm caused the lights to flicker in the lake house. Simra exchanged glances with Mandy, Ms. Hanley, and Zach. She took the angel’s hand while Mandy and Ms. Hanley's curious gazes observed her. "Is it true?" Ms. Hanley paled. “Is it really happening?” Simra squeezed his hand. Zach grasped her hand with a soft grip. “Anything’s possible with Azazel. The demon could’ve shown Mandy this vision to frighten us out of the house. Or it might be true. He has threatened to send me back to heaven. We must risk going to St. Memory to stop him. A demon can’t cross sacred grounds, but he can persuade a human to do the job. Let’s go to the cemetery before it’s too late. You won’t see me here ever again if I’m sent back to heaven. Then, you’ll never be able to destroy Azazel.” Simra turned to Mandy and Ms. Hanley before hurrying toward the door. She explained everything Zach said. “You two stay here with Grandmother where it's safe. Zach and I will return tonight. We must stop Tristan.” Mandy tilted her head to the side and gave Simra a sad pout. “Just be careful, Cousin. We’ll take care of Grandma and pray for you.” Zach interrupted Simra’s train of thought. “Let's go to St. Memory before it’s too late.” Mandy yawned and turned toward the den where their grandmother sat on the couch. “I love you, Sim. Stay safe.” "Be careful. I'll save your dinner for you," Ms. Hanley hugged Simra. Simra returned Ms. Hanley's hug and kissed Mandy on the cheek. “Thank you so much. I love you both, and we’ll be careful.” Mandy kissed her cousin on the brow before Simra walked out the door. Simra hated to leave the safety of the house. Then again, she wished they were already there to stop the demon. Simra slipped into her sandals and rushed onto the porch with the angel. They locked the door behind them. She almost leaped into his arms and nodded for him to carry her. Simra choked back a sob of despair at the thought of never seeing Zach again. She didn’t just need him for destroying the demon. But Simra needed him by her side for the rest of her life. Although she hated hearing his brutal honesty, he guided her to have a relationship with God. Simra tried to push away the thought of sharing her life with him. Mortals couldn't be with angels. Besides, he wanted her grandmother’s soul. They arrived two miles from Pastor Mervin's church. Zach placed Simra on her feet at the entrance of St. Memory. He turned to her and pointed near the edge of the graveyard. Candles were lit around a grave. Taking her hand, he led her toward it. “The only way to send me back is to light candles around my dead vessel, recite a prayer over it, and burn it.” "Stop him!” Zach cried out when Quint dropped the match into the casket. They stopped a short distance from the thug behind a lone tree. Simra covered her open mouth when Zach vanished into thin air. They didn't make it in time. A gruff laugh escaped from the drug dealer while he watched the burning corpse. They arrived much too late to save Zach. The angel would never come back now. Storming away with quiet steps, Simra hurried down the road toward the church. Pastor Mervin might be there, but the hour was late. Zach did say how Tristan could not cross sacred ground. Maybe the demon wouldn’t be able to walk into a church. Simra needed to call someone to take her back to the lake house. Tears streamed down her face from losing Zach by the hands of a madman and a callous demon. Simra made it into the church just in time. Rain began pouring down. The doors were unlocked to her surprise. She cried out in agony and hopelessness. “Pastor Mervin? Are you here? Anyone?” Although no one replied, a loving presence surrounded her. Lit candles circled around the back of the altar. A church member must have just been there and could be returning soon. They wouldn’t leave the candles burning all night without coming back. She scanned the church for anyone, and her eyes filled with more tears. A beautiful marble statue of Jesus stood in the front of the sanctuary. His arms were stretched wide open while he gazed at the heavens. The serene presence enveloping her had to be God. Simra shifted her stare from the doors of the church to the candles. “Is anyone here?” She took slow steps toward the statue and grazed her hand over the smooth surface. Why would someone from the church be here at night? Zach or Tristan couldn’t unlock the doors for certain. Did God unlock the doors for her? The Lord performed so many miracles, and she saw them with her own eyes. He chased Tristan away and gave her the greatest amount of love and protection. God showed Simra His will, the truth she needed to hear, and so much more. Complete security embraced her. She hoped Tristan couldn’t approach her in this sacred place. Quint was the one who might come inside the church to hurt her. However, her faith in God became very strong at the moment. The drug dealer would not kill Simra if the Lord had anything to do with it. She still needed to fulfill God’s purpose to destroy Tristan. Somehow. However, no one could collect her grandmother's soul or destroy the demon now. Since Zach returned to heaven, Tristan could take Simra as his bride. Her spirit would be lost forever if the demon couldn’t be destroyed. She needed God’s help now more than ever. Grabbing her cell phone in her pocket, Simra started calling Jeff to arrest Quint before the crook escaped. She explained everything when he answered. “I’m inside the church where I’m safe from Tristan. It's two miles up the road from St. Memory. Quint just burned Zach’s body in the cemetery. Zach’s gone. Come and arrest Quint before he gets away.” “Stay inside the church, Sim. I'm on my way.” The detective hung up before she could say anything more to him. She knelt before the statue and closed her eyes to pray while tears misted her eyes. A close bond began developing between her and the Lord. “God, I’m so confused and sad right now. Help me see everything clearly and guide me on what I should do. Give me Your truth and love in this dangerous place I’ve reached in my life.” Zach’s words repeated in her head. “Let go of your haunted past.” “God, help me to become willing to let go of my painful memories. I realize it’s what You want. Amen.” She didn’t quite understand what Zach meant by letting go of the past. Simra became lost with confusion and shifted her gaze at the statue for several moments. Maybe the angel meant her family's tragedy and Simra’s involvement with Tristan. Then again, she had already let most of it go. Well, except wondering why God allowed it to happen. Simra’s heart dropped to her knees when the phone vibrated in her hand. When she saw Mandy calling, she rushed to answer. Something could’ve happened to her grandmother, Ms. Hanley, or her cousin. “Mandy?” “Granddaughter, sometimes we must let go o’ things-people too precious to us so we be free,” Lucinda mumbled in a whisper on the other end of the line. “Grandmother, what are you-“ The phone clicked when Lucinda hung up. Her grandmother couldn’t be talking about Tristan. The demon was no longer precious to Simra. However, Lucinda told her those exact words before Simra broke up with him. Could she be speaking of letting go of Zach? Then again, the angel kept pushing her to let go of the past too. Simra turned her gaze back to the statue of Jesus. This person was in Simra’s past, but she had many who were dear to her heart. A warm breeze swept across her bare shoulders and caused her to melt for a brief second. Gentle hands latched onto her and squeezed. Simra’s heart leaped to her throat. She jerked away in response and held back a scream. The phone slipped from her hand to the floor, and Simra dared to look behind her. The person was gone before she could see them. They disappeared in the blink of an eye. Simra’s wild heart raced out of control. But the warm presence was still there. Zach could not have returned. Tristan must have found a way inside the church. A warm breeze blew down the nape of Simra’s neck. The candles blew out by a warm wind across the large sanctuary. Soft voices whispered around her, which she didn’t understand. Her feet remained frozen to the floor. The smoke from the candles caused her nose to twitch. Weakness paralyzed her entire body. Simra didn’t have Zach to protect her this time. A familiar voice spoke behind her. Zach and Tristan’s deep, gentle voices sounded identical, but she knew it couldn’t be the angel. “There’s no reason to be afraid, Simra. You should listen to your grandmother.” Lucinda must have been speaking about letting go of Zach when she called. Simra did begin holding him precious to her heart. The angel helped Simra and saved her countless times. Simra owed her life to the angel for how he saved her and her loved ones. But she held her family dear to her heart too. Simra knew Tristan would give anything for her to forget about his brother and those she loved. An angry fire seethed through her body. “You’ve always been jealous of Zach. And you’d give anything for me to forget about him. I don’t love you anymore. Nothing will ever bring us back together, and you can’t make me love you again. Your brother's much better than you were or ever will be. I loved him more than I ever loved you. I’ll never understand how you and Zach were brothers. There’s no chance for us, Tristan, and you can't scare me.” His deep laughter sent chills breathing down her neck. “Oh Simra, you've no idea how it makes me feel to hear you say it! I knew how you felt all along. It’s not good to fight being in love, you know? You should release your feelings and not hold them inside.” His warm breath drew closer, and he pulled her against him. He consumed her lips with a soothing kiss. She became weak in his arms. His kiss melted her to the sugary sweetness of honey. Tristan never kissed her in such a sweet way like he did tonight. His hands were silky and smooth this time. The demon’s hands were usually rough and cracked. His gentle hands caused her stiff body to loosen with delight. She wobbled backwards in the dark sanctuary when whispers surrounded her again. “Stay away from me, Tristan.” Simra’s phone vibrated on the floor and revealed a tiny light. She snatched the cell to answer it after pointing the light around her to see if she could find Tristan. Simra saw no one there. The demon must be manipulating her like always. She answered the phone in a rush. “Yeah, hello?” Jeff spoke as soon as she picked up. “Sim, are you still in the church? We have a major problem. Tristan's keeping me locked me inside my car. I’m parked outside. I didn’t see anyone at the cemetery. Stay in the church where it’s safe. I’m calling for backup.” Simra felt the blood drain from her face. Tristan might be trying to kill her friend again. He may succeed this time. Zach couldn’t protect him now. She needed to think fast on a plan to save herself and Jeff! Chapter 28 "The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills." - Song of Solomon 2:8 Trying to calm her nerves, Simra began pacing the floor. “Jeff, the drug dealer could come and kill you! Please stay hidden in your car.” Suddenly, all that mattered was Jeff’s safety. Keeping the detective safe became more important than her own security. If she had to go out there and face Tristan herself, so be it. Squaring her shoulders with determination, she got ready to risk her own life to save Jeff. Her family’s safety always came first. A gentle hand rested on Simra’s shoulder and caused her breath to catch. “Simra, please hide somewhere inside the church. I’ll take care of Quint and Azazel. God spared me by causing it to rain and put out the fire. He wants my brother destroyed. I'm not finished.” Simra couldn't control a gasp after realizing who spoke to her. God needed Zach here to accomplish His will. The demon must be destroyed by her and the angel. She had to have Zach here with her too for many more reasons. She loved him and would never let him go again! The phone slipped from her hands when she realized Zach kissed her. Bright rays of splendor filled her heart. Simra snatched her cell from the floor and tried to hide the shock in her voice. She repeated the words to assure herself of the angel’s presence. “Zach’s here. He’s here, and he’s coming to help you. Stay hidden in the car until he gets rid of Tristan.” “Alright, Sim. Don’t leave the church. I’ll come inside when I can.” “I won’t. Stay safe,” she hung up the phone and looked for the angel. Simra’s heart pounded faster when Zach’s smooth hands framed her face. She inhaled a quavering breath of his scent of cedar when his mouth consumed hers in a tender kiss. His lips tasted of fresh evergreen from towering mountains reaching heaven. Never did anyone captivate her heart like he did. Simra’s knees buckled beneath her when he pulled away and placed a gentle hand to her cheek. Zach caressed the side of her face. “I’ll return for you. Don’t ever worry about anything happening to me again. Be careful.” A warm breeze whooshed past her, and the doors of the church creaked open. He hurried through them at the entrance of the sanctuary. Simra pressed a button on her phone to show light and lead the way for her to hide in a room in the back of the building. She took steady, quick steps to a door. Simra needed to stay safe until Zach drove Tristan away. Jeff must also catch the drug dealer. A dim light from the window revealed several steel chairs in front of a small podium. Simra dared peeking outside, but her breath caught in her throat. Jeff’s bright headlights were near the front of the church. Zach unlocked his car, but Tristan sneaked up on the angel from behind. The demon placed a hand to his brother’s head to send him away. Jeff hurried from the car when two more cop cars spun into the driveway beside him. Jagged streaks of lightning flashed and booming thunder hovered over them. Tristan turned to see the police searching the area outside the church. While the demon was distracted, Zach jerked around to face his brother. The angel shoved him onto the ground. Simra scanned the area for Jeff and the other cops but didn't see them. Quint must have got away. The crook wouldn’t come to the church unless Tristan gave him a feeling that he should be there. A loud bang came from the sanctuary. Simra’s knees became numb, and her feet remained glued to the floor. She turned around and noticed the door staying closed behind her. Simra’s breathing grew rapid, and her stomach twisted in knots. She held her breath and gazed back at the window. The storm raged, and she saw no one outside the church. Maybe Zach or Jeff came inside the church to find her. The drug dealer might be gone. Simra took cautious steps toward the door and opened it to find the sanctuary still in complete darkness. She dared walking out into the open of the room. Simra called out their names in a hushed whisper. “Zach? Jeff? Is that you?” She jerked forward when a gun clicked behind her. The person placed the end of the weapon to her head. “You in a lot o’ trouble wit’ me now, woman, and you won’t get away from me dis time. No one holds me in prison.” Her heart dropped to her churning stomach when she realized her life was in the hands of Quint. Simra’s breath caught in her throat when the lights blinked through the sanctuary. She kicked him in the groin to escape. The drug dealer fell and groaned in pain. The gun slipped from his hand to the floor, and she kicked it far from his reach. Zach rushed out from behind a door in the back of the church and glowered down at Quint. Fire reflected in the angel’s dark blue eyes. Simra yearned going outside to tell Jeff that Quint was inside the sanctuary. She rushed toward the doors but came to an abrupt halt. The deafening thunder boomed close to the exit. Simra almost stumbled backwards from the earsplitting sound vibrating the thick walls of the church. The furious rain beat down against the roof. Tristan couldn’t come inside the building. It must have enraged him to know Quint was getting arrested again. The demon should also be infuriated at God for sparing Zach. The doors of the church swung open when the two cops rushed inside with their uniforms drenched from the angry rain. However, Simra could only focus on Tristan standing outside the building. The glowing fire in his eyes devoured her with fury. He seemed to be waiting for her and Zach to come out of the church. Never did Simra see such rage in Tristan’s eyes with his trembling hands clenched by his sides. The demon must be destroyed. Tonight. The dangerous storm appeared to have no effect on the persistent demon. The cops slammed the doors shut after they ran inside the place. Simra’s blood froze. Icy needles pricked her flesh from seeing Tristan's hideous glare. Facing the vile creature and destroying his body might be impossible. When he was furious, he seemed to become more powerful. “Sim? Sim? Can you hear me? What’s wrong?” Jeff gripped her shoulders and gave his friend a gentle shake. The other two officers handcuffed the drug dealer and carried him away. Jeff blocked her view from looking outside the doors. “Sim?” Simra placed a hand to her brow and turned to the detective. “Sorry. I saw Tristan. He’s so angry, and I’ve never seen him look so…so terrifying. Please guard Quint better this time, and be certain he doesn’t escape. I know Tristan helped him get away last time. Use all the restraints you’ll need.” Jeff gripped her shoulders and gazed at her with assurance in his eyes. “We’ll do everything we can to keep that scoundrel locked up. I’m more concerned about keeping you safe from Tristan. You still staying at the lake house?” “Yeah. Zach’s protecting me, and it’s up to the two of us to destroy the demon. I think you should come with us to the abandoned house tonight. Zach can’t come inside the place since it’s protected by demonic prayers and symbols. Somehow, we’ll have to bring the body out so Zach and I can end this. I’ll need your help getting the corpse out of the place.” “Where’d you say the house’s located?” Simra gave him the directions and told him what street before Zach interrupted her. “It’s not far from this church. Tell your friend to be prepared. I suspect there’ll be trouble ahead of us in that place.” She repeated to Jeff what Zach stated. “Be ready for trouble. I know you’ve arrested Quint, and there’s paperwork to be recorded on him. Can it wait, or can someone else take care of it? Tristan’s growing more furious by the minute. We need you. I have the ingredients to destroy the body, but they’re at the lake house.” Jeff took his phone and dialed someone’s number. He turned in the opposite direction. “Hold on a second, Sim. I’ll see if I can help you now. Someone else may be able to handle the documentation. It has to be completed as soon as possible.” The thunder booming around the church caused her muscles to tighten into knots. She turned to Zach, who placed his comforting arm around her waist. Tristan might do something horrible to them once they left the church. Her tight shoulders loosened with delight from the warmth of the angel's arms. A part of her wanted to draw away from Zach when she remembered how he hurt her grandmother. But she was too relieved he returned. And something was different about Zach since God spared him. “Simra, you must face Azazel. It’s up to you and me to destroy him. There’s not much time. Have more faith. I promise I’ll do everything in my power to protect you. The Lord will do the same.” Jeff interrupted them, and his eyes wavered. “I can’t come with you right now. They need me at the station, but I promise I’ll come to the house. I’ll meet you as soon as I’m done and will call you when everything’s finished. It shouldn’t take long. Don’t you think we should wait until tomorrow anyway? It might be safer during the day.” Simra turned toward Zach, then back to Jeff. “It has to be done tonight. Tristan’s up to no good. We’ve made him very angry, and his anger will grow worse the longer we wait. Call me when you’re done. The demon’s dangerous. It’s getting out of hand, and it can’t go on any longer.” Jeff reached for Simra and squeezed his friend with a tight hug. “Be careful going back to the lake house. You have a way back?” Simra returned his hug. She became more afraid for the detective’s safety than her own. “Yeah, Zach will take me. Stay safe. We're all in danger, and it’s even worse now. Tristan might succeed in killing you next time.” She shivered at the disturbing thought. Jeff placed a reassuring hand on Simra’s shoulder. “Have faith, Sim. Place all your trust in God. He’ll protect us just like He saved me when I had the wreck.” Simra nodded and closed her eyes for a brief moment to say a silent prayer. She prayed for God to protect her loved ones and herself while they finished the mission. Then, her emotions became clouded with what she and Zach discussed earlier. God didn’t intend for Tristan to marry her, for it wasn’t His will. Therefore, it wasn’t His will for her to die so young. She had her business to run. Most of all, she needed to find a cure for her grandmother’s curse. Simra had many missions. She opened the door with a slight crack and watched Jeff leave without any harm done to him. She turned to Zach and took a quavering breath. “You think he’ll kill me this time?” “No, I won’t let my brother hurt you. Go ahead. I’m right here.” Simra reached for the black iron doorknob of the double doors but hesitated to open them. Her blood ran cold just to remember the anger in Tristan’s eyes. Going into the face of danger caused Simra’s insides to quiver with dread. However, she knew they must chance it. They stepped into the silent night air around them. The storm went away, and the pouring rain with heavy winds stopped. Simra inhaled the scent of wet grass. The sparkling stars and crescent moon brightened the dark night sky. Her worries crept up and drifted to Jeff. She hoped Tristan wouldn’t harm him. Simra screamed when the demon leaped onto Zach from out of nowhere. He pinned the angel down and grumbled a demonic prayer over him. Simra’s hands trembled, and her feet remained frozen to the ground. She needed to get Tristan away from Zach somehow. Leaping onto the demon’s back, Simra tried to pull him off his brother. Tristan bolted up to shove her off and left the angel motionless on the ground. The demon stepped closer to her with flames igniting in his eyes. “I'm much stronger than you, baby. Surely you know that.” Simra hurried away from him, but he caught up to her in no time. Tristan pulled her against his hard chest. His eyes stopped glowing, and a wicked laugh escaped from him. Simra turned to Zach, but the angel seemed to be in pain. Tristan shifted his gaze toward Simra again. “I’m taking you where no one will ever find us. Only you and I will be there. Always and forever. We’re beginning our lives together starting now.” He swept her up into his arms and carried her away. Chapter 29 "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." -Ephesians 6:17 Tristan carried Simra through many cities, forests, and deserts. Dizziness swept through her torn emotions. The demon traveled with her much too fast. The ocean's night tides crashed around them for several moments. She tasted the salty breeze slapping against her face. Simra closed her eyes as the quick passing waves made her dizzier. She couldn’t control her lips from parting when she saw where Tristan took her. Dolphins chirped in the distance, and white sugary sand tickled her feet when he released her. The place looked so familiar. She saw it several times in her dreams during her engagement to Tristan. No one except her and the demon were in the vision. However, Simra never understood the meaning of the mysterious repeating dream. Her nose twitched at the scent of burning wood. Tristan picked her up again and carried her to a crackling campfire near the shore. “Welcome home, princess. Look familiar? Zach won’t ever find us here. This place is well protected.” Simra struggled to free herself from his firm grip and lifted her chin in defiance when he let her go. She fought her rising panic in the face of a dangerous, possessive demon. “I don’t know what this place is to you, but it’s not my home. I’m not staying here and will escape. I’m not spending the rest of my life with someone like you.” His lips slithered into a wicked grin. “You don’t have to fight your love for me. I'll never hurt you again. It’s time to start our lives together, and it’s too late for you to go back now. You’re far from Texas. This is your home now, and there’s no way to return except by me. We’re staying here forever.” He always denied the fact that she didn’t love him anymore. Although Simra yearned to discover a way of escaping, her feet remained frozen to the ground. She doubted there would be any chance for her to leave the island. Tristan might harm whoever passed by, and Zach may never find them. Texas seemed so far away. The Lord was her only hope. It wouldn’t surprise her if she had already died and went to the lake of fire. Maybe it explained why she dreamed of this place so often. Tristan rested his hand along the hammock tied to the palm trees. “It’s late, princess. You should sleep. Zach keeps you up all night to do work for him. You know I'm not that selfish. Want to eat before you rest? I can fix up a meal in a matter of seconds.” Simra stormed toward him with clenched fists. Her blood boiled from rage. “Selfish? You think Zach’s being selfish? The reason we’re working so hard is because of you! You’re causing all of this destruction and turmoil for everyone, including your own family. You persuaded Quint to kill your own father because of selfishness. I can’t even count the other selfish things you've done!” Tristan stood up and framed her face in his hands. “I admit I did horrible things, but I'm saving you, baby. My brother wants to hurt you. He intends on doing more damage to you than he did to Lucinda.” Simra felt her cheeks growing hot with fury. “Don't even attempt to go there. You're nothing but a liar, and I don't believe anything you say. No one will ever hurt me like you have.” She turned away from him to hide the tears misting her eyes. Did Tristan succeed? There were many reasons why this shouldn't come to pass. Lucinda needed her, and Mandy couldn’t run their business alone. What would Mandy do without Simra now? They were always there for each other. Tristan turned her around to face him. “You’re worried. My brother’s fed you lies about me, hasn’t he? I promise I'll never hurt you like that again. You'll be happy. I'll even watch over your family to be sure they'll be all right. We'll have our own family too. This island is our home now. I won't let Zach hurt you." Simra tried with all her might not to slap him. “Are you deaf and blind? I love and believe Zach, not you. And there's nothing you can do or say to change it!” She gazed through the forest of palm trees and tried to see if she could find a way to escape. Maybe there was a boat somewhere on the island, but she tried not to search too hard. Tristan might catch her looking for a route of escape if she wasn’t too careful. He read her thoughts so well. She needed to be cautious of what went through her mind. Tristan tortured her raging emotions and confused spirit. The conniving demon must be shown how he did not affect her. “What is this place? I’ve seen it many times before now.” Tristan leaned against one of the palm trees and seemed hesitant to answer her question. “I sent you dreams of this island for several nights. I wanted you to see our future home one day. This is where we’ll spend forever. It holds many powers, and I placed a number of spells on the place. We are and always will be the only ones here.” Simra felt the blood draining from her face. “Why’d you choose this place?” The demon lifted his arms into the air for a brief moment and faced the trails leading through the forest of palm trees. “Remember when you couldn’t find any trace of me for several days? I disappeared here when I wouldn’t answer your calls. My secret’s yours now, princess. I grew and stored drugs on this island for many people. No one will ever discover the drugs. They were brought back to civilization and sold to my clients when I got low on money.” Simra fumed at recalling how he vanished and wouldn’t return her calls. “That’s the most ridiculous, low-lived job I’ve ever heard of someone doing. This is what you hid from me? You lied and told me you were away on business trips.” She paused and added, “See how much of a liar you are? That should tell you why I can’t trust anything you say.” Tristan reached for her face and framed it in his hands. “They were business trips to be kept top secret. If anyone discovered how I made my money, I would’ve been thrown in jail. You wouldn’t have agreed with my way of living if I told you earlier in the relationship, but my dealing days are finished. I no longer require such a horrible job. I don’t have to make money anymore. The island belongs to us now, and that’s how it always should’ve been.” Curiosity plagued her, and Simra urged him to answer more of her questions about the land. “You could’ve made money in an ethical way by having a decent career like normal people. Who else comes to this island? You know they’ll rescue me, right?” Tristan gave her a careless chuckle. “No one ever comes here. The land holds many powers by me and my dark master. The powers send them in another direction from the island so it won't be discovered.” “It just seems like a plain island to me.” Tristan bit his lip in hesitation. “It's our own hidden paradise. The island doesn't exist to others. You and I belong together.” Simra lifted her chin with defiance and stormed away from him in disbelief. “I’ll escape from your stupid paradise if it takes all the faith within me!” She rushed to the edge of the shore and screamed the angel’s name. "Zach! Please come and find me!” Simra closed her eyes for a brief moment and said a silent prayer to the heavens over the beach. God, give me the strength to fight this demon. Give me the willingness not to surrender to his tricks and lies. Thank You for keeping my loved ones safe and for helping me all this time. Amen. A cold draft breathed down her neck in the dark tropical air. This island belonged to Tristan, and no one would ever find her if she didn’t have faith. It must be the darkest location in the world. Being here with Tristan caused her trust in God to become much too weak. She continued gazing out at the enduring waters disappearing into the starry sky. Tristan startled her from behind when his cold hands brushed tresses of her hair to the other side of her neck. “Zach won’t ever find you. This place is hidden from him. He belongs with the Lord. God’s angels can’t see the island because of the spell. I brought you here so we could be alone.” Tristan took her hands and kissed their palms. “I love you. I want to make you the happiest woman who's ever lived. Let me take care of you and keep you safe. Allow me to stand by your side and love you with everything I have. Zach doesn’t love you. He'll hurt you. Marry me.” Simra’s heart raced from the building memories of the first time Tristan proposed to her. In the past, she did love him as a wife loved a husband. Only pity filled her heart for him now. Tristan destroyed her love by doing so many awful things, which he continued to do. No, Zach didn’t feel the same sick way about her as Tristan felt. Zach loved her while Tristan had a revolting obsession with her. Simra drew her hands away from him and squared her shoulders. She grew more careful not to look into his appealing blue eyes. His reassuring words in such a dreamy environment didn’t help matters. “You know, you’re right. Zach doesn’t love me the way you do. He has healthy feelings for me, and it doesn’t matter if no one comes. I have God on my side, and it’s not His will for this to pass.” Simra trudged through the soft sand toward the burning campfire and turned to him. The demon revealed no anger or frustration toward Simra and trudged after her. “Everything happens for a reason. Even the things we think we don't want. God allows them to happen. Therefore, you're meant to be my wife." Hopelessness drained Simra at the thought of never getting back to his body to bring an end to all the madness. The demon and his chaos caused her to become weak with fatigue. She didn’t have a good night’s rest in a long time because of him. Tristan sat across from her when she eased onto a large log by the fire. The flames danced across his solemn face while he gazed at the wood burning. Memories tore her heart to shreds when she thought of how she fell in love with him. She longed to marry him before he changed. Torn emotions ripped her soul to pieces, and they tried playing disguised tricks on her. He looked identical to Zach. However, they were completely opposite. Pity enveloped her for the demon. Misery and despair was drawn across Tristan’s face. She cringed at the sound of his voice growing shallow from being on the brink of tears. “I've tried for so long to stop doing bad deeds, but it’s who I am. I’m a demon, and I don’t blame Zach for trying to stop me. I hate who I am, and I hate what I’ve done to you. I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you. You make me happy when no one else can. I realize you should stay away from me. I’m poisonous. Venomous.” Although she tried to fight the sympathy building within her for the vile demon, Simra fought back tears. Maybe he did feel guilty for everything, but he was right. Demons caused much corruption and misery, and they were poisonous to a human. Simra didn’t know what to say to him and turned in the other direction. She tried to avoid listening to his soft cries in the night. No, she felt no guilt for him. He probably wanted her to feel guilty since no other tricks of his worked. Demons couldn’t be trusted. Unwanted sorrow overflowed in her aching heart for him. However, she must still find some way to escape the evil island. Simra lifted her gaze to the heavens to seek God in such an unfortunate situation. She closed her eyes and placed all of her concentration on God. Simra sought His will and asked for Him to touch Tristan’s heart. Let Thy will be done, Father. Amen. Tristan rested a cold hand against her cheek, and tears streamed down his face. Such intense honesty reflected in his dark blue eyes. “I’ve always loved you, and I’ll love you forever. All I desire is to make you happy, and I want to stop doing evil deeds more than anything.” Pain bled through the depths of his voice, and Tristan seemed weak against the evil within him. A chill flushed through her body when he pulled her into his gentle arms. A small part of her softened for him and the pain he experienced. A whirlwind of memories came alive within her when he drew her lips to his. Tristan kissed her with a warm, flowing tenderness. Simra drew away from him and kept her eyes turned away from the demon. She tried to hide the pain burning through her soul. There were still too many evil qualities about him that shoved her away. Simra couldn’t control her lips from parting in surprise when his eyes glowed with much vehemence. “What is it?” Tristan stood in abruptness with his hands clenched by his sides. “There’s trouble in Texas. I sense it. Someone’s up to no good. I’ll return.” The demon gave her no time to reply and rushed into the waves of the ocean. He disappeared from sight. Her heart dropped at the disturbing thought of who made him angry. Zach, Mandy, Jeff, and Ms. Hanley must be worried to death about her. They could be trying anything to find her. Simra’s heart dropped when she remembered telling Jeff about the abandoned house. The detective might be there now. Tristan’s body was hidden somewhere inside of it. Simra did a frantic search through the hidden trails for any kind of boat to go out to sea. Zach might find her if she summoned him far enough away from the island. The trails led to a forest of trees. She spotted a huge garden planted in the center. The garden must be where Tristan planted the drugs to sell. Simra saw a large wooden shack near the garden and trudged toward it. There were nothing but boxes and jars of white powder. Jeff would have had a huge drug bust on his hands if they found this place in time. She found no boat or anything to go out to sea. However, she kept running through the trees to the other side of the island. In her dreams, she recalled wandering to the other side of the island. She had found Tristan approaching her from the sea. Although she left him behind on the land, it puzzled her when she saw him walking toward her from the ocean in the vision. They had swam toward the sunrise together. She awoke with beads of perspiration across her brow every time. Perhaps the man from the ocean was Zach. Maybe the sunrise indicated the end of dark times with Tristan and the beginning of a new day. To her surprise, she found a tiny boat beached at the shore awaiting her departure. Simra ran as fast as her legs took her through the thick white sand. She made it to the boat out of breath. Simra pushed the small boat into the water and hopped inside when she got it into the ocean. The waves were calm and made it easy for her to raft through them. She rode the smooth tides into the sea. Her heavy eyes gazed up into the orange rising sun in the horizon. Simra made it far enough away from the island. She cried out Zach’s name in hopes he would hear her somehow. “Zach, help me! Please find me!” A large tide roared up in the distance and came closer toward Simra. Her rapid breathing stopped, and she started turning the boat around to return to the island. The monstrous wave gained on her. There was no time to make it back to land. Seeing the tall tide caused her to close her eyes, and she expected the worst. Drowning in the middle of nowhere seemed the worst way to die. Her hands clutched the sides of the raft until she heard Zach’s voice behind her. “Simra, it’s all right. I’m here. From where did you come?” Simra took deep gasps for air and turned to see the angel in the boat behind her. “Zach, I’m so glad you’re here! Tristan took me to that small island in the distance.” She pointed toward it and explained about the spell. Zach remained motionless in the boat, and his eyes wavered. “I’ll take you near the island again so the curse can be removed. I have a plan in case Tristan brings you back, and I believe he will. I’ll tell you how to remove the spell. Hurry. Your grandmother’s in much danger.” Simra felt the blood freezing her veins and recalled Tristan’s anger. Her heart dropped when a sickening thought crossed her mind of what Tristan would do to her grandmother. They needed to get back to Texas before it was too late! Chapter 30 "But You, O Lord, be not far off, O my Strength, come quickly to help me." -Psalm 22:19 Mandy searched everywhere for Simra. She fought back a sob from the thought of never seeing her cousin again. Sim never returned to the lake house like she said would. Mandy tried calling her cousin, but she didn’t answer. She drove to Sim’s home, work, and contacted her cousin’s friends. No one heard anything from Sim. It was almost like she vanished from the face of the earth without a trace. The demon must have captured her again. Hopefully, Jeff would find her at the abandoned house and bring her back to safety. Then again, what if Tristan took her somewhere else this time? Shivers crept down Mandy’s spine. Sim might be dead. Desperation consumed Mandy to find her. She would not sleep until she found her cousin! Mandy rushed into the Alzheimer’s home to drop off their grandma. Lucinda was going crazy! Mandy met Jeff upon arriving at the facility. Lucinda’s behavior worsened since Sim disappeared. Lucinda flew off the handle whenever Sim got captured by Tristan. The nurses were unaware of the problems. Mandy and Jeff agreed to meet up at the facility after searching awhile. Quint remained under closer observation in prison after Jeff completed the paperwork. The detective walked inside the home. Much concern filled Jeff's chocolate brown eyes behind his glasses. “Anything?” Mandy shook her head in despair but admired Jeff's concern. She didn't fall for him until recently. Mandy reached for the detective and held him with a tight grasp. She resisted the urge of tears misting in her eyes. “Let's go to Grandma's room.” Mandy explained how Lucinda behaved each time Sim was in danger. Jeff followed her toward Lucinda’s room and spoke in a hushed tone. “Ms. Lucinda has a connection to Sim and Tristan. Everything Sim’s told us has happened. I wish we could see Zach. I bet he knows where Tristan has her.” Mandy nodded. “I agree. You checked the abandoned house?” Jeff turned toward Mandy and scratched his chin in deep thought. “Yeah. I smelled the corpse, but the house was empty. That’s where they were last time. Sim never called me to come and meet her there.” Lucinda paced the floor with her hands trembling, and Mandy took her hands. “Grandma, what is it? You worried about Sim?” Lucinda’s eyes widened in dismay, and anger reeled in their depths. Her grandma mumbled until her words became somewhat clear. “Hhh. Hsss. Hsss. His house!” Mandy turned to Jeff and couldn't control her lips from parting with surprise. The surge of tears fell from Mandy’s eyes. “Impossible! What about it, Grandma?” Mandy grasped her grandma’s shoulders with gentle hands. Lucinda framed her granddaughter’s face in her fragile hands, and the old woman’s eyes grew wider. “Take….me.” Mandy placed her hands on Lucinda’s, and tears streamed from her own eyes. “It’s dangerous, Grandma. I’m sorry, but we can’t. You might get killed.” Although Lucinda seemed petite and delicate, she jerked Mandy closer from her towering height. She cried into her granddaughter’s ear. “Take….me!” Jeff interrupted the two ladies. “I believe it’s a good idea to take her, Mandy. We’ll keep Ms. Lucinda safe. Prayer and faith can protect us. She could lead us to the body. Tristan's distracted with Sim right now. We should find it.” “Are you insane, Jeff? Tristan’s crazy! I don’t want our grandma anywhere near that place. That hideous monster almost killed us in car wrecks and cursed our grandma. Something could happen.” Jeff grasped Mandy’s shoulders and gave her an intense look. “I promise I’ll protect Ms. Lucinda. Besides, we have the angel and God on our side. Pray about it, and have faith. Remember how the Lord saved our lives in the wrecks? He’ll protect us as long as we believe. We need your grandma there. The demon’s body is somewhere in that house. Ms. Lucinda may find the exact location of the corpse. I know she has Alzheimer's, but she's aware of a lot about Tristan.” He paused and added, “Sim can’t find the body because of Tristan’s constant interference. He’s too possessive of her. After we find the body, we can find Sim. Sim can destroy him. Then, Sim can return to her normal life.” “I don’t like that idea, and Sim’s going to be furious. But... I agree about Grandma leading us to the body. Sim couldn’t find it anywhere inside the house. I bet Grandma knows where the thing’s hidden. Keep her safe, Jeff. Promise?” Jeff framed Mandy’s face in his hands and brushed a soft kiss across her lips. “I promise, Honey. You and your family mean everything to me. I’ll do everything in my power to protect all of you from danger. I’ll save you-especially from a rampant demon like Tristan. In fact, I’ve made up my mind on staying in Longview.” He paused and added, “I’m not returning to live in Dallas ever again. I want to be with you. Let me protect you, Sim, and Ms. Lucinda. We’ll settle down after Tristan’s destroyed. I came back to Longview to sort out my feelings and decided I belong here with you.” Mandy returned his tender kiss, and tears stung her eyes. “You’re staying? Oh Jeff, I’m so happy! I want to spend the rest of my life with you too.” She turned toward her grandma again and framed the woman’s face. “We’ll take you to Tristan’s house, Grandma, but please be careful.” Lucinda grasped her granddaughter’s hand and rushed out the door with Mandy and Jeff. The detective led them to his car once they stepped outside. Mandy helped Lucinda into the backseat and snuggled against her. “Grandma, I love you so much. We’ll break this curse and destroy Tristan. I promise.” Jeff drove in the direction of the house. Lucinda’s hands trembled, and her words jangled together. Mandy’s heart bled for Lucinda. Her grandma’s emotions must be raging with agonizing pain. Mandy’s stomach twisted in knots just thinking about how the demon wanted Sim all to himself. She squeezed Lucinda in her arms, and a deep yearning devoured Mandy’s heart. She'd die to protect her loved ones from that horrid monster. Jeff turned to grab her attention. “Mandy, we’re here. You all right?” Mandy almost didn’t hear the detective. “Just scared." "Let’s pray before going in there.” He took Mandy’s hand and placed the other on Lucinda’s knee. “God, please surround us with Your protection. Watch over us as we enter this house, and let Your will be done. Amen.” Lucinda grabbed Mandy’s hand and hurried out of the backseat. The woman continued mumbling. Mandy squeezed her grandma’s fragile hand. Tremors slithered down Mandy's spine as she studied the two-story plantation home. Shadows embraced the house; it seemed the place had a dark secret hidden within that haunted Lucinda. Mandy couldn’t imagine how Sim stayed with the demon so long in such a place. A deep regret gnawed at Mandy’s insides for not finding her cousin sooner. Sim ran to the courthouse with such terror in her eyes. Mandy couldn't imagine what her cousin and Lucinda endured and swallowed back a heavy sob of despair. The detective paused at the front door. Jeff’s hand rested on his pistol in the holster. “Ready?” Lucinda hissed and kicked the door open. Mandy’s grandma allowed nothing or no one to get in her way. The woman slid through the entrance with her hands compressed at her sides. Mandy followed her grandma inside with Jeff. Lucinda’s intent gaze remained on the wide staircase. The woman wrenched her hand from Mandy’s and walked ahead of them. Silence filled the house, and Mandy only heard her own painful heartbeats. The rooms overwhelmed Mandy with gloom and hopelessness. The demon must have brought her cousin to a more evil place than this the second time. Tristan created nothing but chaos for Sim. It weakened Mandy’s body to think of losing her. How did Sim endure it so long? The silent, empty house carved a hollow hole in the pit of Mandy’s stomach and almost sickened her. Mandy blocked Lucinda from going upstairs. “Grandma, no. We can’t go upstairs. Why don’t you let Jeff go up? You and I will wait here.” Lucinda hissed in defiance and jerked free from her granddaughter’s grip. The woman began walking up the stairs anyway. Her grandma barely made it up each step. Mandy placed her hands at Lucinda’s tiny waist. She helped Lucinda take every step without falling. Her grandma risked her own life to save Sim. Jeff steadied Lucinda and helped her up the stairs. “Dynamites do come in small packages, don’t they? Ms. Lucinda, allow me to carry you up there. It’ll be much easier for you.” Lucinda mumbled in response to the detective. She wrenched away from him and continued her slow steps up the staircase. The floor boards creaked beneath their feet. Jeff gave Mandy a puzzled glance. Lucinda ignored them with her gaze intent on the steps below. Sim inherited her strength, determination, and independence from Lucinda. They stepped onto the second floor, and Jeff turned to Mandy. “We can’t burn the body if she leads us to it. Sim’s the only one who can destroy Tristan. But we'll tell Sim where it is when we find her.” Mandy pressed her lips together and eyed her grandma. The body's rotgut stench burned the back of Mandy’s throat. “We’ll find Tristan’s corpse and keep trying to find Sim. I hope and pray she’s still alive,” she glanced at Lucinda, “I don’t believe our family can handle much more death.” Lucinda froze at the top of the staircase. The woman tilted her head and focused on the ceiling down the hall. Fury burned in her grandma’s eyes. Mandy studied where Lucinda held her gaze. Dust and chipped white paint covered the surface. But there was no opening for an attic. Lucinda kept staring at the bare spot. Jeff and Mandy searched every hall and room for an attic but found nothing. “Is his body there, Grandma?” Lucinda's eyes widened with a cold and bitter fright. Her mumbling voice cried louder. Mandy stepped in front of her grandma and faced the descending staircase. The front door slammed from downstairs and vibrated the old walls. Mandy’s bones quivered with the violent tremor of the house. Heavy footsteps pounded through the place like thunder. Mandy gripped her grandma’s arm tighter. The mad stomps came closer toward them up the stairs. Jeff drew his pistol and prepared for what approached. Mandy placed her lips against Lucinda’s ear and cried a soft whisper. She blocked Lucinda from view. “Grandma, stay behind me.” Ragged, frigid whispers pricked Mandy’s neck like sharp icicles. Mandy jerked around and screamed when the invisible creature picked up a pallet. The demon placed it on top of her to trap Mandy. Silence filled the house, and Jeff aimed the gun in different directions. The detective cried out Mandy’s name when the creature grabbed his ankles and dragged him down the stairs. “Mandy!” Mandy winced at the loud thud on the bottom of the staircase. “Jeff! You all right?” Mandy’s heart hammered against her chest when the detective didn’t respond. The creature’s footsteps pounded up the stairs toward Lucinda. “Grandma, don’t let him hurt you! Where’s Sim, you monster?” Although Mandy couldn’t hear or see the vile demon, the frigid caress of his laugh seemed to crawl down her spine. A painful ache devoured Mandy’s stomach at the thought of losing everyone. Lucinda stood frozen in place with her eyes widening. Fog floated from her grandma’s lips. Mandy’s constant struggles to escape were pointless. A numb weakness spread through her veins at the thought of losing her entire family in this house. The enemy caused Mandy to question her faith. Nothing or no one but a miraculous act of God could save those she loved. Fright devoured her heart for their lives so much that trusting God seemed impossible. Mandy’s tears and perspiration burned through her. Never did she believe this kind of day would come! Chapter 31 "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. -John 15:13 Simra removed the island's curse with holy prayers that Zach taught her. They chased away all evil on the piece of land. A warm breeze embraced her body after completing the prayers. God had answered Simra in an instant. The Lord’s powerful grace filled her heart with tenderness. Surely He would save her family again too. She realized how much she did not trust God since she lost her parents. So much had changed recently. The angel followed her toward the center of the island. His eyes sparked into a raging fire. He studied the drugs planted in the center of the island. She slid into his arms after they walked back to the shore. “I dreamed of this place many times. It’s strange how the repeating vision became reality.” Zach brushed a soft kiss across her lips. “Azazel could’ve caused the dream. Then again, God probably sent you a warning about the future. We’ll stop my brother.” The salty breeze caressed her lips, and the waves crashed onto the brilliant white shore. Simra’s head spun with worry about her family. Her stomach twisted into knots. She gazed at Zach with a sob catching in her throat. Reaching around his waist, Simra clung to him. Simra buried her face into the angel’s black shirt and inhaled his strong cedar aroma. “I’m so afraid.” Simra thought about Zach’s big plan again and got ready to face evil. She’d risk anything to save Lucinda and the rest of her family! “Let’s go.” Zach breathed warm kisses against her brow. Gathering Simra into his arms, he began carrying her back to Longview. “Place the note inside Jeff’s car before you walk into the house. If Mandy and Jeff know about our plan while Azazel’s there and not distracted, he’s won. Remember how to shield my brother from reading your mind. Only you can destroy him. The rest of us have our parts.” Zach carried her quicker than usual. Simra rubbed her eyes when they arrived at the old house. Her head reeled with dizziness. A churning ache knotted her stomach when she noticed Jeff’s brown car parked in front of the home. Someone had kicked open the house’s front door. Zach reached for Simra’s arm and stopped her from running inside the place. “Regardless of what happens, shield your thoughts.” Simra reached into her pocket and squeezed the note between her fingers. She opened Jeff’s car door and placed the note on the driver’s seat. “He’ll regret ever knowing me if he’s hurt them.” Zach lifted her chin with a finger after Simra closed the door without making a sound. “Don’t allow your anger to interfere. Remember, this chaos will end if everything goes as planned. Focus. Focus.” Her shoulders squared in determination. Running toward the house, Simra repeated the angel’s words under her breath. “Focus. Focus.” Her gaze stopped on Jeff groaning in pain at the bottom of the stairs. “Jeff! You all right? Where is he?” He assisted Simra by lifting the heavy board off him. The detective replied in a hushed whisper. “There’s no time to explain. I’m fine. Mandy and your grandmother are upstairs with him. Hurry!” Limping up the stairs, Jeff followed Simra toward the demon. Simra gasped when Tristan grabbed Lucinda by her shirt collar. Rushing into Tristan’s arms, Simra stopped him immediately from harming her grandmother. Happy memories with Tristan shielded her angry and fearful thoughts. Jeff lifted the heavy board off Mandy’s body. Gasping in disapproval, her loved ones studied Simra clinging to him. Tristan had a vital reason for coming all this way. The corpse was here, and her family must have found the disgusting thing. Its rotten stench stung her throat when she entered the house. Simra tightened her arms around the demon as tremors crawled down her back. Refusing to look into his wicked blue eyes, she hid her bitterness. Simra concentrated on shielding her thoughts. Focus. Focus. Keeping her loved ones safe remained her top priority. “Tristan, I love you. Let’s return to the island and stay forever. I apologize for everything. I became so concerned about you that I tricked Zach into bringing me here. Let’s go home.” Mandy stomped across the wooden planks with her black high-heeled boots. Her cousin’s lips stayed parted in bewilderment. “Are you insane? Where’d he take you? You can’t go back with him! You love this disgusting creature? How could you?” The demon bolted from Simra’s arms and reached for her cousin. Simra caught his powerful arms and stopped him from harming Mandy. Her insides coiled. Simra brushed a soft kiss across Tristan’s lips and hid her anger. Jeff reached for Mandy and prevented her from interfering with Simra. Mandy placed a strand of burgundy hair behind her ear and shot Simra a harsh look. Simra’s heart pumped with restlessness. Her emotions ripped to shreds when she looked at their grandmother. Lucinda’s eyes blazed with a consuming fire while Simra clung to the demon. Simra resisted the tormenting ache to hold and comfort Lucinda. Why did they bring Lucinda here? Their grandmother shouldn’t be in this place! Lucinda latched onto Simra’s arm, and the woman’s tired eyes pleaded with her granddaughter’s. Taking the biggest risk of all, Simra released Tristan. She gave her grandmother an affectionate squeeze, and Mandy pulled Lucinda away from Simra. Resisting to think about the plan again, Simra kept her mind guarded. The demon’s eyes flickered into raging sparks, and he took a step toward them. Tristan grabbed Lucinda by the collar of her shirt. His voice lowered into a hideous growl. “Stay away from her and stop intervening. I’ll make your memory loss worse if you don’t. She belongs to me!” An itch stung Simra to slap Tristan, and she drew away from her grandmother. Simra framed the demon’s face in her trembling hands and clenched her teeth. She fought each impulsive desire of killing him now. Simra rekindled the flame within her that she felt for the demon so long ago. “Tristan, please don’t touch-don’t hurt Grandmother. She doesn’t understand how much I love you. It isn’t right to harm her. Yes, I belong to you, but Grandmother’s only worried about me. Please try to understand….for me. You love me, right? I love you.” The demon’s eyes softened and changed back to blue. “Yeah, baby. I love you, but everyone else needs to leave us alone. They don’t understand a love like ours because they’ve never experienced it. Your family and Jeff must leave and never return.” He paused and added, “They’ll be destroyed if I sense they’re here again. We’ll return to the island after I’m certain they’ve left. Tell them to go now.” Chill bumps spread across Simra’s clammy flesh. She turned to her family and concealed the panic in her voice. “Tristan doesn’t want any of you coming back here. Promise you won’t return.” Jeff nodded, grabbed Lucinda by the waist, and carried her downstairs. “We won’t come back as long as Tristan doesn’t hurt you and leaves us alone.” “He has my word,” Tristan growled. Simra repeated the demon’s reply to Jeff. “I love you, Grandmother. I love all of you.” Lucinda cried in agony when they took her down the stairs. Mandy’s stare pierced into her cousin when they turned to leave. Simra switched her thoughts again when new fears wanted to arise. Tears misted Simra’s eyes, and a sob caught in her throat. She restrained her rampant emotions. Nothing could ever return to normal for her again. Guilt ripped apart her tormented soul. Her loved ones endured too much. The curse on Lucinda needed to be broken. She refused giving up on her! Simra would blame herself forever if the curse claimed her grandmother’s life. “Baby, you all right? I’m sorry about what I said.” Tristan soothed away her tears with his thumb. “It’s not just that. I’m scared.” Tristan framed her face in his hands and placed his brow against hers. “I promise everything will be all right if your family and Jeff keeps their word. They must keep their promise, and you should trust me.” Not really listening to him, Simra gave Tristan a slight nod. Keeping her loved ones safe mattered most. If she had to risk her own life to save them, then it must be done. Tristan gathered her into his arms without Simra’s resistance. “I’ll take you back to the island where we’ll be safe from my brother.” Simra tried not to focus on how her grandmother cried and reached out for her. However, the despair in Lucinda’s tormented eyes shot through her body like hot needles. Anguish bled Simra’s heart to numbness. She must find a way to break Lucinda’s curse before it became too late. Simra needed to see Lucinda one last time. Zach or Tristan were not allowed to claim her grandmother’s soul. She would make certain of Lucinda’s safety. Never did she fear more for her family’s lives than now! If Simra had to die to save all of them, so be it. Focus. Focus. Chapter 32 "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack!" -Psalm 34:7-9 A dark void filled Zach as he awaited Simra and Azazel’s return on the island. The angel and Simra removed the curse on the place. But Christ also shielded Azazel from sensing anyone near the abandoned house again. All this was done through sacred and holy prayers. Gazing at the blue ocean, Zach was brought back to the tortuous moments on a similar island with Lucinda. The salty breeze drew a bitterness within him to remember what Azazel did. Zach understood why Lucinda hated beaches ever since it happened. He could still hear Lucinda’s painful screams from the past, and they’d haunt him forever. Azazel couldn’t have Lucinda years ago. Zach knew the demon would make certain Simra didn't escape. Simra and her family must stick to the plan. Nothing could go wrong. However, something else tore at the angel’s heart. He and Simra's grandmother would return to be with Christ very soon. Zach’s heart belonged to Lucinda years ago, but his love became stronger for her granddaughter. He could be cast out of heaven upon returning for not controlling his feelings for Simra. Why didn't God rebuke Zach for his mistake like He did last time with Lucinda? It was almost like Zach did nothing wrong. But that couldn't be true. God chose Melton for Lucinda just like He’d choose another mortal for Simra. Zach and Azazel were not meant for humans. Then again, how could Zach continue in heaven without his beautiful Simra? She taught him the true meaning of being in love. He’d only feel like half an angel without Simra by his side. Although she refused to part ways with Lucinda, the two must be separated. God began calling Lucinda home, and Lucinda was ready to be with Him, Melton, and the rest of the family. Zach fought all selfish desires of wanting Simra by his side whenever Azazel got destroyed. How horrible of him! He was beginning to think like his evil brother. She belonged with a mortal in her future. Not them. Zach sought strength to be happy for her, but his heart ached. The angel’s jaw clenched when he sensed his brother returning with Simra. Zach hid behind the forest of palm trees and observed them. Azazel placed Simra at her feet. The demon’s gaze shifted in all directions of the island. “Something feels different. It’s not a good feeling.” Bitterness seared through Zach. Yes, Christ was here with them. The Lord would protect Simra from getting harmed by the angel’s pesky brother. Jesus meant business, and so did Zach. Diving into Simra’s mind, Zach identified her powerful shield keeping the demon unaware of their plan. Good. Simra replied without revealing concern. “Didn’t you say there's powerful evil on the island? Perhaps it’s only your master. He probably knows how things were becoming almost uncontrollable for you.” Azazel scratched his chin and became lost in thought. “You’re right. I can’t see how the spell could ever be broken. Tell me again how Zach rescued you from here.” Simra shook her head and took his hand in her own. “Oh Tristan. You’re still always so suspicious about everything. I got worried about you and my family. I didn’t want anything terrible happening to any of you. I searched for a boat on the island and paddled out to sea. Zach found me far away from the island. I asked him to take me close to your house in Longview because I was worried.” Azazel squeezed her hands with affection as uneasiness still shadowed his blue eyes. “This is different. I know you couldn’t have broken the curse on the island. Zach can’t come near it. You wouldn’t know how to break such a complex spell. However, I’ve noticed how Zach seems stronger since I tried sending him back. It makes me think God made him this way for the battle against me.” Simra crawled into his arms and glanced around the island as if searching for Zach. “Just hold me. Can’t we enjoy these moments together? It’s been so long since we’ve had happy times alone like these. So much time between us has been lost.” Azazel drew her lips closer to his and gave her a brief kiss. The demon scanned the island a couple more times as though reassuring himself no one was there. “Time has been lost between us, princess. I want no more of it to be wasted. Our future together starts now….always and forever. We’ll be married in a few hours.” Azazel’s lips lifted into a tender smile, and he placed a strand of hair behind her ear. “Tristan, I’m exhausted and haven’t had rest in a long time. Can you fix me a bite to eat? I’m hungry and need to sleep for a bit.” Resting was in the plan. Zach had agreed to wait a few hours to proceed. She needed her strength to destroy Azazel. The demon brushed a soft kiss across her brow and trudged through the sand toward the forest. “I’ll find something to eat, and then, you should get some rest. You’re very deprived of sleep.” Grabbing the phone from her pocket, Simra read something on it. Zach dove into her thoughts again. Jeff sent her a message. They were having trouble convincing Pastor Mervin to come to the house and remove the curse. The preacher seemed frightened to face Azazel in his demon form. Simra placed a hand to her brow. Azazel would return any moment with food. Keying a message back to Jeff, she told him what to say to Pastor Mervin. Simra explained that the preacher must do this for Zach. It would save lives and set the angel free. The text message must have been sent with a poor signal on the island. It was hard to believe she received any service at all. Maybe Christ caused her phone to have a small signal. Zach knew the Lord needed the demon to be destroyed. Simra and the rest of her family must stick to the plan. Their faith in Him was the key to success. If they didn't have faith, Azazel might win. The phone buzzed in response after several moments. The detective told her in a brief message how her idea succeeded with Pastor Mervin. The preacher had revered Zach. The angel suspected the idea would succeed. Her shoulders swayed, and she plopped into the hammock by the dying campfire. “Who were you texting, Simra?” Azazel’s disgusted voice came out of nowhere. He returned much too quickly and quietly. Simra gasped in surprise and turned to see Azazel stomping toward her. “The signal’s poor. It’s nothing.” “Give me the phone. Let me see.” Azazel dropped the fish on the ground. The demon growled in a heated rage and tried taking the phone from her before she jerked it away from him. “No, I don’t want you looking through my cell. What’s in my phone is none of your business! I told you it’s nothing. You make me uncomfortable when you behave this way. Please leave me alone, and let me rest. Can you at least do that one thing for me right now?” Simra controlled the infuriated tone in her voice. She slid the phone into her pocket. She gazed down at the fish, which was too dirty to eat now. “Fine. But they're inconsiderate of us. You should tell them to leave us alone. The phone shouldn’t have been brought here in the first place. I have a special romantic day planned for us after our marriage ceremony when you wake up.” Azazel brushed a soft kiss across her brow when she reclined in the hammock. Zach needed to keep a closer guard on him now. The gentle swaying of the palm trees and the supple waves rolled across the white shore. Simra drifted into a deep sleep. Azazel paced around the campfire. The demon’s eyes glowed as he studied Simra in her slumber. The angel’s evil brother walked toward her and slid the phone from her pocket. Zach’s plan would have to take place much sooner than anticipated. He prayed to the heavens in hopes that Pastor Mervin and Simra's family were close to finishing their parts. There wasn’t any time left, and Simra would not have much strength because of sleep deprivation. The demon read through the messages between Jeff and Simra. Azazel's eyes glowed with jealousy, hatred, and anger. Zach shook his head at the demon’s madness. The angel clenched his fists when Azazel threw Simra's phone against a palm tree trunk. The shattering object caused Simra to bolt up from the hammock. She rubbed her eyes and gazed around to see about the disturbance. Her lips parted in surprise when Azazel glowered over her. The demon's eyes glowed with heat as he stormed toward the campfire. He picked up one of the burning logs from the dying embers of the fire with his bare hands. Azazel threw it at one of the palm trees across from her. A vibrant blue streak of lightning flashed near them and startled Zach, Simra, and Azazel. The dying flames of the fire roared up from the ground and caused her to leap from the hammock. She broke into a mad run toward the trails. The pathways led through the thick trees of the island. The plans may be interrupted now. From where did the lightning come? Christ? The powerful thunder boomed behind it and caused a tremble to course through Zach. Surely Azazel’s master didn’t return to the island after the angel and Christ sent him away. If Azazel's master returned, Simra and her family were in great danger. But the Lord's great power always made every creature and soul tremble. For now, Zach must tackle one action at a time. Saving Simra’s life and getting away from Azazel came first. Zach didn’t consider who caused the thunder and lightning for now. Simra’s safety mattered more than anything! Chapter 33 "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." -I Peter 5:8 Simra’s temples throbbed from running so fast, but she resisted looking behind her. Tristan might be at her heels by now, but she was too afraid to glance back. Her body ached from being so tired. Because of hunger, her body grew weak. Simra’s muscles constricted with fear. She felt something would ruin their plans. Tristan couldn’t have caused those powerful streaks of lightning. Instead, it seemed to startle him. She couldn’t understand why Zach didn’t appear sooner to stop him! Zach appeared at such odd and unexpected times. There was a loud thud behind her. Simra dared taking a sideways glance at Tristan. He was just a breath away from her. Her heart fluttered when the angel grabbed his brother. Zach shoved him against a palm tree and pinned him against it. Zach mumbled in another dialect. Those vibrant streaks of lightning caught up with them and struck over Tristan’s head. The booming thunder brought a cold fear into the demon and the angel's eyes. The powerful weather wasn’t caused by Tristan or Zach. Neither of them frightened each other in the past. These vivid streaks were created by something more dominant than both of them. It must be an act of the Lord! The demon would fight harder now that he became aware of their plans. Her faith must stay strong. The lightning died away, and Tristan took both of his brother’s arms. The demon pinned him against the tree. Tristan began mumbling something in rage against Zach. Simra squared her shoulders and stomped toward Tristan. She placed her hand on him and whispered a soft prayer with renewed faith to the heavens. “God, forgive me for ever doubting You. Please protect us, and let Your will be done in all things. Cast out this demon so that we may do Your will. Amen.” Tristan threw his hand back to shove her away but Zach grabbed his hand to keep him from harming her. The angel mumbled something in a foreign language over him. She realized at that moment how God could not do all the work for her. Simra must take action too. This was the only way He could assist her. Simra jerked back when vivid lightning and roaring thunder erupted out of nowhere again. It struck Tristan down as Zach finished grumbling in another dialect. The demon’s wild glowing eyes grew wider in fear. He turned and ran away from them into the thick forest of swaying palm trees. Zach gathered Simra into his strong arms and carried her toward the shore. The demon could not be sensed anywhere on the island. Only Zach and the warm presence of God embraced her. The angel carried her over the waves of water. Simra squeezed Zach and closed her eyes. “Where’d he go? How soon do you think he’ll come back for us?” Zach gave her a worried stare, and they continued their quick travel back to Texas. “Azazel won’t stay in pain for long. He’ll be very angry and vengeful if he returns before we can destroy the body. I’m only warning you. He went to heal, and Azazel’s in pain from our prayers and faith. Thank you for being so brave. God saved us.” Simra tried to avoid the dizziness enveloping her and closed her eyes tighter. She clung to the angel and inhaled his strong cedar aroma. They had to hurry and find the corpse. The demon must be destroyed before Tristan returned. Simra’s head spun at how fast they moved. She inhaled a quavering breath when they appeared at the house. Simra opened her eyes to see Jeff’s brown Impala parked in the driveway. The warm spring breeze caressed her cheek and caused her to sigh. It was much different than the salty breath of ocean air. She turned to look at Zach. “Has Pastor Mervin come?” Zach’s lips tugged into a slight smile, and he nodded with approval. “Yes, he came, but Mandy and Jeff stayed. They still want to help but have done everything they can. It’s up to us now.” Zach could see the house now and walk inside of it. Loud hammering came from upstairs, and Simra squeezed Zach tighter in desperation. Did Tristan return already? Was he trying to hurt Jeff and Mandy? The angel released Simra, took her hand, and they hurried up the stairs. Peeking around the doorway, Simra gasped in surprise. Jeff tore apart the walls with an ax without wearing his shirt. Mandy stood on the other end of the room with another ax. They tore big holes in the wall. The corpse's rotten stench burned Simra’s throat. The body couldn’t be inside the walls. Mandy and the detective must have searched the entire place while she was gone. They revealed the same amount of determination to destroy him as she did. However, only Simra and Zach could do the job. Simra stopped her friend and cousin in the middle of their intense work. “I appreciate the hard work you’re doing for me, guys. But you shouldn’t still be at this horrible place.” Jeff turned around and dropped his ax onto the floor. Perspiration beaded across his torso. “Sim, you’re all right! Where’s Tristan?” Simra returned Mandy’s gentle hug after her cousin dropped the ax onto the floor. “Yeah, I’m all right. Tristan’s in pain for now. Zach wounded him, but I don’t have much time. Guys, I’m the only one who can destroy it. The ritual won’t succeed if you two do this.” Mandy rested a soft hand across her cousin’s cheek. “Maybe that’s so, but we’ll at least help you find the body. So far, we’ve searched the entire house. Grandma kept looking at a spot in the ceiling when she was here. We think she knows where it’s located. This place has an attic, but we can’t find an entrance.” Simra cast all thoughts of the body aside. “Whose idea was it to bring Grandmother to this horrible place?” Jeff and Mandy exchanged troubled glances, and the detective spoke up to her. “It was my idea. She spoke to us and begged us to bring her here. She knows where the corpse is hidden. We believed she could lead us to the body. This is why we brought her with us. I apologize.” Mandy interjected before Simra had the chance to speak. “It’s strange because she only remembers and senses things about you and Tristan. It puzzles me how she has such a connection to you two.” Simra refrained from arguing with Jeff about their grandmother being brought to the place. “It's the curse that connects her to me and Tristan. Jeff, it might’ve been good for Grandmother to come, but it’s too dangerous. Regardless of how much she wants to help, please don’t do it again.” Jeff picked up the ax to tear at the walls again. “Sorry, Sim. It won’t happen again. For now, we’ll at least help you find the body. You can destroy it. There’s another ax beside Mandy. I have a feeling there’s a way to the attic behind these walls. I believe it’s in this room. The disgusting odor is more powerful in here.” Simra grabbed the detective’s arm and pointed to the trap door across the room. “You’re right! The smell's stronger in here. I think I know how to get into the attic. Tristan locked me in here the first time, and I escaped through that trap door. I hardly saw the way through the small passageway to get to the other room. It was so dark. There might be an entrance above it.” Jeff and Mandy’s phones buzzed at the same time. They dropped their axes to answer them. Simra turned to Zach with her erratic heart pumping. Why would anyone call them both at such an odd hour during the morning? Who would be calling them at this time and at the exact moment? Shivers of dread raced down her spine at the thought of the angry demon. Tristan would be coming to stop them any minute now. Zach framed Simra’s face, and his eyes filled with concern. “We must hurry.” The phone slipped from Mandy’s hand, and she turned her worried gaze toward Simra. “Grandma escaped. How’s that possible? The place is secure. They said she was very sneaky about it, and they have no idea where she went. Sim, I have to search for her. She could be in danger.” Sickness churned the pit of Simra’s stomach at the idea of her grandmother wandering the streets alone. Her vigorous heart pumped with fierceness. She ached to leave the house now and help Mandy search for Lucinda. Zach framed Simra’s face. “This is what Azazel wants. To distract you. Focus. There’s not much time. We must destroy him now!” Simra's blood ran cold through her veins, and her feet froze to the floor. She had no choice. “Find her, Mandy! I’ve got to stay here and end this. I’ll help you find her when I’m done.” Jeff hung up his phone and hurried into his shirt. “The drug dealer escaped again. His prison guard fainted mysteriously, and Quint got out of the prison cell. The police have no idea how it happened. They’re still trying to discover how he did it. I’m joining them to search for him. He’s shot a couple of cops already. What else happened?” Mandy told him about Lucinda escaping, and the detective paled. Jeff grabbed Mandy’s hand and rushed toward the exit of the room. “Be careful, Sim. We’ll come back to help you and Zach when we’re done. This is serious and must be dealt with now.” Simra felt the blood rush from her face when she realized how more danger closed in on them. “Please be cautious. Both of you.” She scanned the place for a can of gasoline and matches. Relief flooded her senses when she saw all of them together in the corner of the room with an extra ax. She grabbed the matches and gas can and opened the trap door. Simra held her breath as long as possible to avoid the rotten stench. “Zach, do you think Tristan’s close and that he caused Grandmother and Quint to escape?” Zach followed behind Simra before she dared crawling into the tiny mildewed trap door. “Very likely. I think he’s close. Hurry before he arrives.” Her stomach leaped to her throat when the door downstairs slammed shut, and footsteps brushed into the house. Jeff and Mandy were already gone. Only one creature would arrive to pay the house a visit. Tristan. Chapter 34 "And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." -Revelation 12:11 Zach gave Simra a gentle shove toward the tiny entrance of the trap door. “Go! Start without me. I’ll keep Azazel away.” Simra nodded, held her breath, and began crawling through the small passageway. Her frantic hands searched for an opening above her head to get to the attic but found nothing. Simra’s hips nudged a thin board by accident. It opened a small door to a hole in the wall with an ascending ladder. She climbed to the top where tiny lights of dawn broke through the attic vent onto Tristan’s body. He rested still in a coffin. An evil symbol encircled it. His rotten stench drew several choked coughs from her. The disgusting odor burned her throat. They searched for his body too long now. Simra took hesitant steps toward the body with the ingredients in her arms. She soaked the corpse with gasoline until she heard footsteps behind her. Jerking around, she expected to find Tristan standing over her. A smile quivered across her lips when she saw Zach carrying Lucinda instead. She dropped the can of gasoline. “Grandmother! How’d she get here? Did someone bring her?” Zach placed Lucinda onto her feet, and she took small hurried steps toward Simra. “I don’t know. It’s a mystery with her condition. She couldn’t have walked. Maybe Lucinda spoke to a driver on the road.” He paused and added, “It’s possible she could’ve told him which street to take her. She’s been here several times. The curse connects her to Tristan and you, and she’s aware of many things. She wants to be certain you’ll be all right. She wants to protect you.” Lucinda reached to pat Zach on the arm with a wide smile. Why would her grandmother still seem so fond of him? Especially now that he wanted her soul. Perhaps Lucinda didn’t know everything. Simra wouldn’t allow him to take anyone but Tristan. Maybe Zach changed his mind about taking Lucinda. They were too worried about destroying the dangerous demon of late. Ending Tristan was all that mattered right now. Simra would talk him out taking her grandmother once Tristan got destroyed. Then, what of Zach? Tears misted her eyes at the nagging thought of never seeing the angel again. Zach came here with one mission from God. There might be nothing left for him to do after this. She would never see him again. Simra took one last lingering gaze at Zach before completing the ritual. “In the name of Jesus, I cover you, Azazel, with the blood of the Lamb and bind you in His name. I forgive this demon for what he’s done to me and my loved ones. Lord, cast this demon into the burning pit where he belongs!” Simra jolted back when her grandmother whimpered from fright. Dropping the matches, she rushed to Lucinda. Lucinda’s lips quivered while mumbling vague words. Only her grandmother would know if trouble approached. Tristan must be coming. Simra reached for the matches and almost dropped them again. The floor shuddered with violence from an earthquake. Simra squeezed the box and rushed back toward the corpse. Lucinda almost fell before Zach caught her. Simra stumbled to the floor. Her ankle fell through the thin ceiling. She stifled a sharp cry of pain. Simra must have broken or sprained the thing. Tristan’s bitter voice thundered across the room. “Drop Lucinda, brother. This fight’s between me and you!” Simra struggled to free her throbbing ankle from the hole in the floor. The demon’s eyes glowed with his fists clenched. Zach set Lucinda down next to her granddaughter. The creaking wood floors still shook with brutality. Lucinda took an unlit match from the box and threw it into the coffin. The curse must have caused her to forget how to light a match. She seemed to still know the purpose; however. Before Zach could turn around, Tristan placed his hand on the angel’s head. He began mumbling in rage at Zach. Simra pulled her ankle to free it from the tiny hole in the floor. It did her no good to try. The angel jolted away and pulled down his brother’s arms. Zach restrained Tristan to pray over his brother. The demon’s seething anger made him stronger and more powerful. It was worse than any other time they battled each other. Tristan jerked around with clenched teeth to get the best of the angel again. Simra moaned in agonizing pain and relief at once when she finally pulled her ankle free. She cried out when someone’s rough hands pulled her to stand. Quint placed a gun to her with the floors quaking. Jeff and Mandy needed to be there at once. Both of the people they wanted were at the house. Quint pressed the gun into Simra’s waist, and she steadied herself against the wall. “Come wit’ me, woman. You ain’t got no business here. Step away from his body and come wit’ me.” Simra noticed Lucinda struggling to stand. The woman grasped a board attached to the wall to steady herself. Her grandmother slapped the pistol from the drug dealer’s hand. Lucinda struck Quint across the face. The gun slammed onto the floor, and a bullet pierced Simra in the stomach by accident. Simra fell onto the floor when the bullet burned through her flesh, and she cried in pain. More than anything, Simra's body became weaker as though she was about to faint again. Then, she realized how long it had been since she'd eaten. Lucinda kicked the drug dealer, and tears fell from the woman's tired eyes. Zach held Tristan down with determination heavy in his eyes. “Simra, burn the body! Burn it now before it’s too late!” Simra’s vision started to blur. She cried out when the drug dealer knocked Lucinda onto the floor. Lucinda was motionless with her eyes closing. No, she wouldn’t let her grandmother die here in such a horrible way! Quint would pay for the rest of his life. Simra grabbed a match and lit it in a rush. The match was tossed into the coffin. Zach’s eyes turned solid white as he lifted his arms to the heavens. The angel cried a sacred prayer in an unknown dialect. He must have been finishing the process. Tristan screamed when he burned up in hot flames and turned to dust. The floors stopped shaking. Silence filled the entire house. Rays of light beamed through the attic vent. The demon was gone from their lives forever. Simra reached for her grandmother, but the drug dealer stopped her. She reached toward the thug to grab him but was unable. Sirens whirred in the distance. With her blurred vision, she watched Quint escape. Agony filled her, and she lay helpless across the floor. Lucinda also lay very still. “No…Grandmother…wake up,” Simra whimpered. Zach rushed to Simra and knelt beside her. He framed her face. “Hang on! Help’s on the way. Your grandmother will be fine. Don’t worry.” Simra reached for his hand and squeezed to ease the excruciating pain. Her senses faded one at a time. “This is my entire fault. I….must…know she’ll be all right.” Zach squeezed her hand tighter. “She’ll be fine. She’ll be fine. Know that.” No, she wasn’t. Her grandmother was dead. Somehow, there had to be a way to revive her. It had to be a way! She refused allowing Lucinda to die. Simra couldn’t die either. The drug dealer must pay. Mandy couldn’t handle the business by herself. Her cousin needed her more than anything. Mandy depended on her at the Alzheimer’s facility. “Simra, please release your guilt. You can’t turn back time. No one can. Know that your Grandmother’s about to be at peace. She’s going where she wants, but it’s not your time. All this happened because of my brother and not you. You have a wonderful future with Mandy and Jeff. Hang on and don’t give up.” “Don’t take…her. It’s still…my fault. I’ll never see…you again, will I?” Darkness began to close in on her. Then, all she could see were large wings flapping above her. Rays of light grew brighter around her. The brightness didn’t hurt her eyes. She almost became lost in its splendor. Zach tugged her hand. “I…don't know. I have to take her. Stay with me. Simra. Simra!” Zach’s voice faded in the distance. There stood a beautiful man with light glowing from him. The man came toward her and carried her in his loving arms. He must have been one of God’s angels. Simra’s body got left behind with Zach, but she couldn’t die now. She needed to stay alive and needed Lucinda revived! Chapter 35 "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." -Revelation 21:4 Simra opened her eyes to see the same snowy mountains where Zach brought her. A petite older woman walked closer toward her through the snow and came from the mountains. It was her grandmother! Running toward Lucinda, Simra embraced her as the snow drizzled upon them. “Grandmother, you’re all right! You look so healthy and well. Is this real?” Smiling, Lucinda drew away and brushed a soft kiss across her cheek. “Yes, Honey, I’m all right. I’m better than ever, and this is very real. Much time’s passed since Azazel got destroyed. I’m glad it's over. But I’m sad you’re plagued with such guilt. Stop reliving the past, Honey, or it’ll destroy you.” Although tears wanted to fall from Simra’s eyes, she couldn’t cry. This was the afterlife. The sight of her healthy and content grandmother caused Simra to beam. The curse was gone, and Tristan got destroyed. Then, a deep longing and sadness tore at her soul. Mandy was left behind and alone with the family business. Simra didn’t know if she would ever see Zach again. The drug dealer still roamed the streets. That thug assisted in killing her grandmother! She took Lucinda’s hands in her own. “I’m to blame. You tried warning me about Tristan when you were alive and well. I didn’t listen until it grew too late. He cursed and killed us, and he hurt Mandy and Jeff. None of this would’ve happened had I never dated him. Grandmother, I’m so sorry about everything. It’s all my fault.” Lucinda framed her granddaughter’s face. “We were only human. We couldn’t see such things on earth. The curse began long before your time. Azazel cursed me when I was only a young lady about your age. That’s when all of it began. Azazel chose me to be his bride first. Because I simply refused, he took vengeance on me and our entire family. He would've forced you into marriage even if you'd listened to me.” She paused and added, “I know you ask why God allowed this to happen. Honey, the reason’s that much good comes at the end. The demons and their master don’t know it, but God uses their curses to our advantage in the end. It also leads to glorifying Him, but it depends on what path we take. It isn’t your fault. Azazel did me a favor. I’m so happy to be home with Christ, Melton, and your parents.” Simra squeezed her grandmother’s hands. “But you and I should still be with Mandy and Jeff. If Tristan didn’t curse you, you’d be able to enjoy more time with us.” “Honey, I had you and Mandy to love in the other world, but I’m happier here. Let me be happy, and be happy for me. I enjoyed watching you two grow into beautiful young women. Be happy for all the times we spent together.” “You’re the spitting image of me, Sugarplum. I love you so much. Don’t feel guilty. Continue becoming closer to Christ. Return to the life God gave you, marry Zach, and have his children. Assist Mandy in helping many more people with Alzheimer’s. You have an entire life ahead of you with brilliant gifts in your future. I’ll be one of those snow angels watching over you every day until we meet again.” Simra’s soul bubbled over from contentment and warmth. “Grandmother, I’d love to do all those things, but I’m already in heaven. Aren’t I?” Lucinda turned to the glowing man standing at a distance. “Gabriel?” The black man stepped closer in a white suit with his voice gentle and deep. “You’re here only for a moment. God wants you to overcome your guilt and see that your grandmother’s well. It isn’t quite time for your arrival. You kept reliving your troublesome moments with Azazel while unconscious. Your lost soul wandered while your body refused to accept life.” He paused and added, “It’s time to move on now. Priceless treasures await you from the Father. He gives you Zachriel as just one of many. God’s very pleased with you. He’s always loved you.” She exchanged glances with her grandmother. “Thank you, Gabriel. I’ll do everything He asks. I love you, Grandmother. I’ll feel guilty no more. Give the family and God my love.” Lucinda hugged her granddaughter one last time. “Oh Granddaughter, I’m so pleased to hear this. Of course. I love you too.” The angel gestured toward Simra. “Additionally, remember to never judge someone by exterior appearances. Man sees what’s on the outside of another, but God sees the heart. Know that God and His angels never deceive.” Giving her no chance to respond, the angel placed a gentle hand on Simra’s head. It transported her back to the world of the living. She didn’t know what to think of Gabriel’s statement. Yes, it was true, but to whom did he refer? Simra’s repeating memory got turned to dust. Her senses returned, and her eyes fluttered open to see…Tristan! The demon wore a white coat and scrubs. Simra struggled to get out of bed. “No, you were killed! Stay away from me. Zach, where are you?” Tristan pulled her down onto the hospital bed with gentle hands, and his gaze softened. “Simra, you’re awake! It's me. Zach. I returned here as a human in my brother’s form. There's no proof of his death since he disappeared and got burned. The Lord revived me in his form. I couldn’t return in my original body because everyone knows I’m dead.” Her heart skipped several beats. “Why should I believe you? This could be another one of your tricks!” “I promise it isn’t a trick. God sent Gabriel, His messenger, to tell me that I’d be sent to you as a blessing. Lucinda’s happy and well with the rest of your family. This is what she wanted. Simra, you saw Azazel burn to a crisp. He got destroyed before you died. God knows how much we love each other. He chose to send me back as a human instead of an angel. I’m sorry I couldn’t come in my original form. I’m not your doctor, but I stopped by to see you on the job.” Simra’s mind swirled with questions. Was this about what Gabriel described? Surely not. “How’d this happen? We burned Tristan’s body. It’s nothing but ashes.” Zach sat next to the bed and took her hands without Simra’s resistance. “It’s difficult to explain. God created another form of him from the dust for me. My tasks are finished as an angel of death, and I’m human now.” Many questions raced through her head all at once. She noticed how he seemed to no longer read her thoughts. “You can no longer read my mind? Zach, how are you licensed to work as a doctor if you’re in Tristan’s body? Where’s Mandy, Jeff, and the drug dealer? I need explanations.” Zach took a deep breath before explaining everything. “I went to see Mom. She had my old certificate. I don’t know how, but it has Tristan’s name on it instead of mine. Mom, Mandy, and Jeff knows that I’m really me. Everyone else knows me as Tristan Hanley. It took me awhile to convince Mandy and Jeff. They finally believed me. The drug dealer didn’t kill your grandmother. She died when Azazel did. The Alzheimer’s got to her, but she went in peace. I’m very sorry.” Although Simra would’ve gotten angry and bitter in the past, she only remembered how happy Lucinda seemed. Her grandmother never looked so content. “That’s strange. I suppose God had something to do with that. Did I really die? Where is everyone?” “No, you went into a diabetic coma for two months. We never lost hope that you’d return. Gabriel told me to never give up on you. He claimed you kept reliving the past.” “Jeff and Mandy came with an ambulance just in time to save you. The drug dealer got arrested. He’s in jail. I promise he’ll be locked in there for life. Mandy and Jeff are doing well.” This man before her was Zach, and Simra’s emotions ran rampant. It would be difficult to see him as the man she loved. So much happened since that day, but gratefulness enveloped her heart more than anything. God reassured her of Lucinda’s happiness. He reassured her of Tristan being destroyed and the drug dealer’s punishment. Most of all, she had a relationship with Christ now. There was also Zach, who she loved with all her heart. Zach’s lips tugged into a warm smile, and he got onto his knees beside her. “There’s something I’ve been dying to ask now that you’re alive and recovering. I can’t wait one minute longer. I want to make you happy, and I promise I’ll always protect you. I’ll never collect your soul, but I want to be joined to it. You showed me how to let go of past regrets, give them to God, and how it’s not wrong to fall in love. We’ll place a smile on our Father’s face each day. All haunted memories will be forgotten. However, how we first met and worked together as a team will not.” Zach pulled a small box containing a diamond ring from his pocket. “Marry me?” Tears of joy and trust misted her eyes. “So you promise there’ll be no more collecting souls?” Zach squeezed her hand. “I promise, and angels never break promises.” Giggling like a small girl, Simra slipped the ring onto her finger. So this was to what Gabriel referred. “I love you, my earth angel. How soon can you get me out of here for the wedding?” Epilogue "I thank my God every time I remember you." -Philippians 1:3 -Years later The water in the Lake O’ The Pines licked the soft sand along the shore. The summer breeze kissed Simra’s face. The fish that Zach caught and cooked caused her mouth to water for more. This weekend was perfect for a fish fry at the lake house with their daughters and Zach’s mom. Lucy, Gabriella, and Snow gathered small mussel shells with their grandma. Simra married Zach not long after he asked her a few years ago. She and Mandy still owned the Alzheimer’s facility. They loved their job more than ever. Jeff made the transfer to Longview as a detective. He and Mandy had their wedding ceremony alongside Zach and Simra. Two sons were born of their love. Simra and Mandy’s Alzheimer’s facility became well known around the country. They made huge donations each year to aid scientists in finding a cure for the horrid illness. Alzheimer’s patients came from everywhere to be placed into their nursing facility. Dr. Hanley was the doctor in charge there. Zach and Simra’s three girls ran along the shore. Their smiles widened across their small faces. Simra took a seat in the chair and giggled at them. Gentle hands brushed through her blonde tresses. Zach gave her a playful grin. “They’re the spitting image of you.” Placing her hand over his, she smiled at him. “They have their dad in them too. I love them so much. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for how He brought us together.” Zach took a seat next to her and brushed a gentle kiss across her brow. “Me too. I love them also. The only one still suffering is Quint.” Ah, she almost forgot about Quint. The man was still behind bars. It did him good. Although he still made threats in prison, he couldn’t escape now. Easing up to stand, she took Zach’s hands. The children ran toward them to show off their mussel shells. Simra’s mother-in-law waved at the couple from the shore with a broad smile. They returned her wave and smile before Simra gazed into her husband's eyes. “I love you so much.” Zach placed a gentle hand across her cheek. “I love you too, my beautiful wife.” He gave her a fierce hug. Simra thought she saw God’s smile and a snow angel above them, engraving an Immortal Memory in their hearts forever!

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