The Archangel Agenda (Evangeline Heart Book 1) (5 page)

BOOK: The Archangel Agenda (Evangeline Heart Book 1)
3.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“He made covenants that He wouldn’t intervene again. This one will be up to mankind to get it right.”

My knees buckled but I caught myself and tried to get a grip on what he was saying. “So even when the bad guys have secrets that put them at a massive advantage, you can’t help out the good guys?” I narrowed my eyes, fitting pieces of his comments and the movie and his involvement in Mom’s life together until my stomach soured with a horrible realization. “You could have saved Mother, couldn’t you?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

I ground my teeth together. “And you chose to obey God’s lack of instruction?”

He ran a hand through his hair. “It’s more complicated than that. There are rules upon rules. If I help one, then I have to help them all. I’m not allowed to play favorites.”

I crossed my arms. “Then why are you here? You want me to believe that you pop in to see anyone who sends a prayer your way?”

“Those men I was allowed to help—Abraham and Noah—they were from holy blood, Abel’s blood.”

“And?”

“There are reasons that I can’t help you like that, but I can guide you. There’s a man, a scholar, who’s spent his life studying my book. Find him and he’ll be able to guide you to the relics.”

Now we were getting somewhere. I needed intel so I could figure out my next step and plan this mission. “Great. Who is he?”

He shook his head.

“You can’t even tell me that? What good are you?”

“Yes, well, that’s why I inspired the invention of Google. I can tell you that he resides in the United Kingdom.”

I rolled my eyes. “Whatever. Are we done here?”

“Yes. Start with the village. If the relic is there, then you’ll only need to ask the scholar about the other two.”

“Why would this scholar help me? I’ll bet he gets questions about these
relics
all the time.”

“Doubtful. And, he’ll have had divine inspiration between now and when you get there.”

I stared at him for a long moment, realizing I’d accepted both what he was telling me, and the assignment. He really was an archangel, who used to be a man, and now he wanted me to take on the Angel of Death, find three relics before Azazel’s student, Harrold, did—my mother’s murderer—and go get Griffin’s soul out of Hell and through the gates of Heaven. Easy-peasy. Sure.

“Oh, and Evangelina?”

I arched an eyebrow, not liking his tone at all.

“A soul can only be reclaimed for a short time. Once Griffin’s been there for too long, you won’t like what he’s become. He’ll be one of them.”

 

Chapter Eight

 

Jordan was like I’d remembered, dry and sandy. But there was also a comfort of coming home. I’d spent my formative years here, had come into myself here. The desert would always hold a special place in my heart. I just hadn’t realized it until setting foot on the soil.

I found a guide—Nyan, a spindly, energetic teen—and after a fierce negotiation over fees, he agreed to take me to the encampment.

“There are only remains,” Nyan said. “After it burned down, there weren’t enough members of the community who wanted to rebuild.”

That didn’t sit well for the recon I needed to do, but maybe I’d find a clue hidden somewhere. “They never tried to rebuild it?”

Nyan shook his head and we set out toward the deserted camp on roads that hadn’t changed much in all the time I’d been gone. “The spirit world claimed the village and the elders feared angering them.”

My stomach sank and the tension knots in my shoulders and neck tightened at the thought that coming to Jordan might prove completely fruitless. If the villagers had all fled that night never to return, I might find the grove untouched with the ring right were my mom left it, but that was a longshot. Nothing stayed unchanged here. Sand shifted, looters looted, and animals scavenged. The odds were against me.

I was silent during most of the drive, letting the movies of my memories play as we passed one thing after another that brought up day after day of my childhood. The broken ruins of the market hit me hard, and I strained to hear the echoes of hagglers and hawkers moving their wares. Without refrigeration or electricity, we had gone to the market every day, and we’d looked forward to the timeout from work to commune together. The sellers were all friends of my parents and we never had to haggle too hard for our dinner, but I’d learned the art there.

We bumped farther down the road and I saw the crumbled foundation of my school in the distance. I’d walked two miles every day so I could attend a morning session before spending the afternoon excavating with Mom. I’d railed against it in the beginning, but I’d forged fierce friendships with the girls I’d gone to school with and I think Mom had wanted that for me, far more that than the simple math I’d learned in those warm mornings inside the building.

Nyan drove to the edge of an open expanse of field and I frowned. “What’s this?”

“The encampment. The old village.”

I looked behind us, and calculated the distance in my head. Sure enough, we’d come the way I’d remembered, and there should have been a mighty village here.

Scars of burned buildings were visible, but only because I knew where to look. I got out and walked the path that should have led me through the center of town. My friend’s house should have been on the left, Dad’s hospital should have stood on the right. There weren’t even crumbled foundations. The fire had burned so long and hot that the ashes had blown away on the dry, acrid wind.

I turned right and walked to the dig. Wind had half-filled it with sand. A broken ladder lay at the bottom of the tree, save two rungs.

Nyan came up beside me. “What happened to all the bits that they’d found here?”

“The looters took most of it. The elders say they were looking for magic.”

I snorted. That was nearly true. If Harrold had wanted the relic so Azazel could open the gates of Hell, that was magic none of us wanted to deal with. “Did they leave anything?”

“A few items, but the elders sold them quickly to keep the bad spirits away.”

I paced off the distance to where the trees that hid Mom would have been. I kicked at the sand, but nothing was there, not even a trace. Not that I’d believed it would be that easy. Nothing ever was. I’d come here to find information as much as the actual relic.

“Do you know who they sold them to?”

He shook his head and tried to move back toward the vehicle. “If there’s nothing else, maybe we should go.”

I nodded. “Can you take me to the elders?”

He tugged on my shirt and got me moving. “There’s a single one still alive.”

“Great.” I couldn’t believe that everything had been so completely destroyed that night. My heart had hoped to find some final token of my life, something of my parents that I could have taken back with me.

The only thing left was heartache.

My guide quickly sped back to town, and weaved his way through the other motorists and people. We stopped at an ornate temple and he pointed toward the door. “Ask for Tenyan. Tell him I took you there, and tell him your mother’s name.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Does anyone remember her?”

“Oh, yes,” he said, emphatically. “She brought much knowledge with her. We still celebrate her. Our parents and grandparents all pass stories about the great and famous Madeline Heart.”

That warmed my entire being. They’d always been such a loving people, and it didn’t surprise me in the least that my mom had found a way to leave a legacy.

I thanked him and tipped him, then walked to the temple. I hadn’t been in one for a long time, and with each step, my legs felt heavier. I had so many unanswered questions beyond this relic. People bustled past me and I pushed forward. I had the mission to concentrate on, and I had to keep that at the forefront.

 

Chapter Nine

 

I pushed beyond the tourists into the areas of the temple where I knew the elders would be housed. At the innermost door, I pressed a buzzer and heard it ring deeper in the building. I glanced over my shoulder, but no one paid me any mind, too enamored by the intricate beauty of the ancient temple.

A wrinkled woman opened the door and frowned up at me. “No tours here.”

She tried to close the door on my foot, but I bent closer so I wouldn’t have to yell. “Nyan sent me to find Tenyan. Madeline Heart was my mother.” I was proud of the conviction in my voice, I’d expected it to waver and crack. Thankfully, some of my training was hanging in there through all this paranormal craziness.

She grimaced and narrowed her eyes like she didn’t believe me, but she held the door open with a grunt. I was grateful that Nyan had given me what he could. She led me through winding narrow hallways to a small sitting area flooded with sunlight. A frail man sat in the far corner, peacefully praying.

The old woman cleared her throat, making both of us jump. The elder smiled and beckoned me forward, like he’d been expecting me ... and maybe he had. He repeated what Nyan had said about that night and why they’d sold the relics, but he’d been able to give me a name, which earned me another step forward.

“We sold all the remaining relics to a private buyer in London, Dr. Ralph Stephano, a retired professor,” Tenyan told me in his soft voice. “Dr. Stephano passed through town and after his tour of the temple, had inquired about any religious relics my brothers and I might have for sale. He picked up and bought whatever he could. He left here that day with over two dozen pieces.”

“Anything resembling a ring?” I held out my hand like I was wearing one. “A blueish green oval stone, with a golden inlay. Kind of big and chunky.”

He nodded. “Yes. We believed that it belonged to your mother, but there was much turmoil surrounding the piece and we feared keeping it here.” He leaned forward and grasped my hands tightly. “The men who wanted that ring killed many of my people for it. They will not think twice on killing you. I do not think you want this piece, even if it was your mother’s.”

I thanked him for his time and advice, knowing that I couldn’t pay attention to his warning. I had no choice.

On the plane from Jordan to London, I pulled out my iPad and researched what I could about this buyer, Dr. Stephano. There’d been nothing in any of the intelligence databases, but Google had been a gold mine. Tons of speaking engagements and podcasts and interviews. I listened to a handful. They were all pretty much the same. Dr. Stephano was a relic hunter, a guy who loved finding neat religious artifacts. And he was the world’s foremost expert on the Book of Enoch. He’d been honored at the Smithsonian and other museums for his donations and was incredibly well versed on all things theology. But he didn’t seem sophisticated enough to be Azazel’s guy.

During one podcast, he’d listed most of his collection, but had admitted that he’d gathered so many relics and artifacts that he didn’t always remember what he had. The host had a hearty laugh about that and then went off on a tangent that I skipped. Metatron had said I needed to find a scholar who knew a ton about the Book of Enoch, and Dr. Stephano not only seemed like the most obvious candidate, but he also had an impressive collection of relics that he’d amassed during his travels. The one I was looking for hadn’t immediately jumped out during my research, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have it.

London was loud and chaotic, but I managed to find Stephano’s address and stepped out of the cab into the overcast afternoon that threatened rain at any moment. A slender, stern-faced woman with white hair in a bun opened the door.

I put on my most charming smile while she eyed me warily. “Hi. Mr. Stephano isn’t expecting me, but I’ve come to inquire about his last lecture.”

Her demeanor changed and her face softened. I assumed they didn’t get a lot of visitors coming to call at his house to talk shop. “Yes, yes. Come in. I’m Anna, Dr. Ralph’s housekeeper. I’ll let him know you’ve come,” she said in a clipped British accent. She let me into the house and I couldn’t contain my surprise at the interior.

It was stuffed to the ceiling and could have been an episode straight out of
Hoarders.

“Can I tell him who’s calling?” She startled me and I scrambled to recover.

“Yes.” My training kicked in and I fell back on my most common alias. “My name is Judy.”

“Please make yourself at home.” She hurried away and I did my best to find a place to stand.

Stacks of papers and boxes cluttered every available space on the floor and I peeked around, trying to find an obvious indicator that the relic I needed was here. I’d anticipated a well-organized display since he was such a collector. This, though … this I couldn’t have anticipated, not even after all the research I’d done on him. Papers stuck out from the pages of books in his bookcases, and more boxes and stacks were crammed together in the remaining space on top. Dusty light filtered through the yellowed aging curtains. Dust motes floated through the air. How the hell did he find anything when he needed to take it to a symposium and talk about it?

“Well hello there!” An exuberant voice heavily laden with a British accent came from the doorway. Wiry eyebrows nearly eclipsed Mr. Stephano’s blue eyes, bright and excited to have a visitor. He moved delicately into the room, his portly figure supported by a wooden cane, twisted and knotted like it had come straight from a tree he’d found on one of his trips abroad. I moved closer, worried that he’d knock one of the stacks over and bury himself. “Anna says you’ve come about my last lecture.”

I hurried over and extended my hand, quickly changing my plan and deciding to pull on his heartstrings instead based on his demeanor and exuberance. “Yes. Hello. Pleased to meet you. I’m Judy Parker. I’m very interested in your research, specifically about anything you’ve learned about the area of Jordan.” I glanced away and lowered my voice. “My mother worked on a dig there, and I’m finally trying to piece together her life. She passed several years ago.”

“Oh dear. Terribly sorry. Do come in. Anna is making tea.” He glanced around the small office as if noticing for the first time that there wasn’t anywhere to sit, let alone have tea and crumpets. “Perhaps the kitchen?”

I smiled. “That would be great.” I followed him down a narrow hall made tighter by more stacks piled against the wall. “I appreciate your taking the time for me since I didn’t call first to make an appointment.”

He waved his hand. “Not a bother. Not a bother at all. I’m always eager to bend the ear of a fellow … er,
are
you a relic hunter?”

Not until recently.
Again, my training took over and the words flowed from my research, my cover thickening one sentence at a time. I wanted to give the barest amount and redirect to get him talking about himself again. “My mother was the one who really got me involved in the history of religion and the artifacts. And you?”

We sat at a round wooden table flanked by two chairs while Anna got our tea ready. Dr. Stephano regaled me with tales of his travels and I interjected questions before he could ask me about any of mine. He rambled and forgot which story he was telling quite often, and Anna had to help him out.

He trailed off during the highlights of his stories, and Anna kept close tabs on him to keep him from getting too frustrated, gently nudging his story along. She was kind about it and I wondered how long they’d been a couple, but then she’d roll her eyes and tease him, making me think they were more like siblings. Either way, she was good for him and he certainly needed to lean on her and her help. I sensed that his memory was failing and that sent a cold shiver down my spine. At the moment, he was the only lead I had and I needed him to come through for me.

We drank our tea and as my alias wooed him with the right comment at the perfect time, his trust in me became rock-solid, just like it was supposed to. I swirled my spoon in my tea and set it delicately on the saucer. “There’s one piece my Mother was especially fond of, and I wonder if you know anything about it.”

He waited patiently for me to describe it. “It was a hammered metal ring, silver-colored but maybe not made of silver, maybe pewter or steel. A blue-green gem at its center, mottled though, like an opal, and the stone is inlaid with a gold pentagram. It’s big, a man’s ring, large.”

“Yes! I do remember that. What a spectacular piece. Anna, isn’t that upstairs in the front bedroom?”

She smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “If that’s where you remember putting it, then it should still be there. Don’t think you’ve done a talk on that one.” She winked at me and walked into the pantry, gathering flour and spices for her next treat.

“No. No. Never told anyone about that one.” He tapped his cane on the floor and got it into position, then slowly stood and held out a hand for me. “Care to go on an excavation like your mother?”

I forced a smile. If the front bedroom looked anything like the front office, I wasn’t sure the best archaeologist would be able to find it.

 

BOOK: The Archangel Agenda (Evangeline Heart Book 1)
3.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Marrying Maddy by Kasey Michaels
Flames Of Deceit by Hutchens, Carol
Hurricane Kiss by Deborah Blumenthal
Edge of Passion by Folsom, Tina
Hell to Pay by Garry Disher
Can You Keep a Secret? by Caroline Overington