The first thing she realized when she woke up was a severe headache. The sun flooding the room and attacking her retinas forced her to squint.
Eyes half closed, she tried to gather her last memories to determine where she was and under what circumstances she had arrived there. She was lying in a bed whose cotton sheets pleasantly caressed her skin. She realized that she was in her underwear, but she had no recollection of undressing or even getting under the blanket.
When she was relatively used to the light, she sat up and looked around. The place was not familiar to her. She was in a small house with a spartan layout. Apart from the bed, only a bedside table and a closet with a mirror door furnished the room. A little further on, a small kitchenette. And only two doors, one of which was exactly opposite the foot of the bed.
Snippets of memories gradually came back to her, until everything, or almost everything, was clear. Grace, John and her had been in a car accident. Or rather, they had been ambushed by Eden’s Gate men. John had ordered her to be taken away. But after that, it was impossible for her to determine what had led her into this room.
The door in front of her opened suddenly. She shivered and instinctively pulled the blanket up to her. Her eyes met the visitor’s. Joseph Seed.
He entered the room, John in his wake. His presence commanded respect, even though he was no taller than his younger brother. A certain gracefulness emanated from him.
She watched him as he walked slowly in her direction. His bare chest was covered with tattoos, some of them representing religious figures while others formed words, drawn or not. He was just as slender as John, almost skinny, but his constitution seemed balanced. The large yellow glasses encircling his eyes gave him a rockstar look, while his brown hair pulled in a bun on the back of his head evoked a hipster style.
Once he reached her, he called out to her in a calm tone.
— We finally have the chance to welcome you among us, my child.
— What do you want from me ?
— I want you to open your eyes and realize that you are leading the world to its destruction by acting as you do. I want you to be my guest at the upcoming service.
He waited a few moments, for an answer that didn’t come. Out of words, she silently watched him turn around and leave the room, leaving his younger brother behind. How weird to come all the way to me to communicate so few words.
— What does that mean, John ? How did I end up here ? And by the way, where are we ?
— Sorry, wrath. My men found it necessary to knock you out to get you here. We are in the Eden’s Gate complex.
— Did you…
— Yes, it was me who undressed you and put you here. Don’t worry, I didn’t let anyone else get close to you. Listen, I would like you to attend Joseph’s sermon.
— No way !
— You think you have a choice ? We offered you hospitality, so that sounds like a small price to pay. Do it for me if you won’t do it for yourself. Unless you want to disgrace me in front of my family ?
He seemed sincere and she couldn’t resist his blue eyes when he looked at her this way. The thought made her uncomfortable. No one would deny him a confession, she was sure he used his gaze to convince people to confess their worst misdeeds to him.
— All right, but only because I am forced there, and it will be the only time, don’t think that I will join Eden’s Gate. Where are my clothes ?
— I gave them to be laundered. Anyway, I’d rather you didn’t attend the sermon in your “traditional” clothes.
— It’s a habit with you, putting the clothes to be washed. So what should I do ?
— I took the liberty of talking to Faith who brought an outfit for you.
He went to the wardrobe to take out a red lace dress. He handed her the hanger, looking satisfied.
— This will be perfect !
— I hate dresses.
— Well, you’ll make the effort to wear one this time. You’ll have plenty of time to reclaim your ugly guerrilla outfit after the event. There are shoes in the closet.
— I have a terrible headache.
— You can probably find some aspirin in the bathroom medicine cabinet. Take a shower too, it won’t be a luxury. I’ll be waiting for you in front of the church. The ceremony starts at 2 p.m., so don’t be late or I’ll make sure you regret it.
She waited for him to leave the house before getting out of bed. She took a quick look at the clock on the bedside table. She had little time left to get ready. She went to the bathroom where she swallowed two aspirin tablets before slipping under the comforting spray of the shower.
The touch of the water and the smell of the soap gave her a boost of energy. She felt much better than when she woke up when she returned to the room to put on the dress she had been lent. She looked at her reflection in the mirror. She was not used to see herself dressed this way, but she had to admit that Faith had good taste.
She surprisingly appreciated the femininity conferred by the outfit and the heeled pumps she had chosen for her. Her figure was far from being that of a model, but the garment fell perfectly and flattered her curves. The idea of pleasing John appealed to her and she hoped that he would appreciate discovering her dressed in this way.
* * *
As she walked out of the barracks, she immediately recognized the place. Joseph’s church was in the center of the complex, surrounded by buildings like the one she had just come from.
She saw John on the front steps of the white chapel. He was chatting happily with the congregation as they entered, when he noticed her in turn. The sight disturbed him and he froze for a moment. It was totally unusual for him to see her dressed like that and he devoured her with his eyes, which was noticed by those watching the scene.
Dana looked around the crowd. It was mostly men, but there were a few beautiful women among them. She felt their hateful gaze on her. There was no doubt that her presence had triggered some jealousy. But did the envy stem from the Seed family’s interest in her, or from the one John had just demonstrated towards her ?
She approached him, but he immediately took a step back, carefully looking around. This gesture slightly hurt her self-esteem. But it was better to keep a low profile for now, at least while she was in the middle of the wasps’ nest. She hadn’t flaunted their relationship in front of her own comrades either, so she wasn’t in a position to blame him for anything.
He politely invited her in, slipping in beside her. As they walked up the aisle toward the stage, he whispered in her ear, “You’re amazing,” making sure only she could hear him.
When they were halfway up the aisle, someone grabbed her arm and squeezed hard, digging his fingers into her delicate skin. She shrieked in shock as she discovered Jacob walking beside her. He maintained his grip, moving at the same pace as her, and said.
— So, princess, did you miss me ?
His intrusion had not escaped John’s notice. But he couldn’t intervene without arousing suspicion, especially since Jacob already knew too much after he had stormed into his bunker to get her out. He clenched his fists in his pockets.
— Let go of me, you brute ! I was invited by Joseph.
— Are you sure it wasn’t my little brother who convinced you to go with him ?
— I’m telling you that the Father invited me. And I don’t think he’ll be happy to hear that you’re harassing me during his mass.
As they reached the front row, Jacob let out a grunt of displeasure and dropped her arm, leaving his purple fingerprints on it. But he couldn’t help but slip in one last taunt before moving away to sit at the end of the pew.
— I have not finished with you.
She shivered under the threat and moved closer to John, hoping to find some comfort in the shelter of his heat. Sensing her fear, he discreetly touched the back of her hand, which immediately reassured her. They sat down side by side, quickly joined by Faith who settled next to the deputy.
— You look great, deputy. I was right : this shade matches your skin tone perfectly. I’m glad John invited you, I’m looking forward to getting to know you.
The siren’s attitude troubled her. The girl seemed sincere and there was a sense of serenity about her. She was always smiling and friendly, but was it real or just a way to better manipulate her interlocutors ? When in doubt, she preferred to be wary of it. But once again, she decided not to make a fuss and to blend into the background by answering her in a friendly way.
— Thanks, Faith. And thanks for the outfit.
The hubbub suddenly stopped as the church doors closed, and all gazes were focused on them. Joseph Seed had entered the chapel and the eyes of the congregation followed him as he made his way to the podium, some even standing up as he passed. He had put on a black vest that enhanced a crisp white shirt for the occasion, hiding the carvings on his chest and back. Thus dressed, he gave the impression of a wise and serious man. Quite the opposite of what he is.
The Father climbed the two steps to the stage and stood behind the stone lectern on which was placed “The Book of Joseph”. His own Bible. He began his sermon without any further delay.
— My children, we have the pleasure of welcoming a very special person today.
All eyes turned to her. No one had missed her entrance at John’s side.
— The deputy is honoring us by joining in giving glory to the Lord and in our community and all its members. I thank her and my brother, John, for bringing her here.
As her fingers twitched nervously at Joseph’s words, Faith grabbed her right hand to take it in hers and wrap it in a reassuring warmth. When Dana met her eyes, the siren smiled friendly. Joseph continued.
— Welcome, my child. Know that forgiveness is always granted to sinners who admit their guilt and confess it. When you have joined Eden’s Gate and absolved yourself of your sins, the barbarous acts you have perpetrated will be excused and you will be able to atone for them.
Her free hand desperately sought to contact John. It brushed timidly against his leg, then grew bolder as Joseph’s speech made her blood run cold. Her palm ended up on the Baptist’s knee, which remained motionless. This gesture had not escaped the preacher.
The rest of the sermon consisted of various prayers and praises to God, punctuated by messages encouraging the members of the community to devote themselves to worship to ensure their place in the new Eden.
When the service was finally over, the crowd quickly dispersed, leaving only the Seed family and the deputy inside the church. If someone had told her when she arrived in Hope County that she would one day find herself in their presence in this chapel, she would have laughed in their face. And yet it was the case, she was alone in front of them. Disarmed and powerless. It was useless to think of acting in any way, she would have no chance to get out of it.
Joseph took a few seconds to hug each of his siblings, pressing his forehead against theirs in an affectionate gesture. As he approached Dana, she instinctively took a step back, but her progress was stopped short by Jacob’s torso, planted behind her. She could no longer escape the brotherly embrace. She was even more uncomfortable because she had never seen Joseph repeat this gesture with people outside his family. She silently endured the contact with the Father, resigned and powerless.
The siblings exchanged a few banalities, then Faith and Jacob left by the back of the stage. John and the deputy turned to walk in the opposite direction down the aisle leading to the main door.
Someone gently grabbed her by the wrist. Joseph held her back.
— Not you, my child.
She pleadingly looked at John, who had stopped when he sensed she was not following him. Joseph addressed him.
— You may leave, brother. I’ll walk the deputy home.
He glanced at her with concern before turning his back and leaving the chapel.
Joseph stared at her as if trying to penetrate the secrets of her soul.
— So, what did you think of my sermon ?
— What should I think ?
— I am offering you a new and final chance to join us. Only then will your soul be saved.
— I would rather die than support your immoral actions.
— Aren’t you acting immorally, maybe ?
— What are you talking about ? About the fact that I’m trying to stop a cult that enslaves a whole region in the name of a pseudo collapse ?
— And all those innocent people from Eden’s Gate that you slaughtered in the name of resistance, when most of them were never a threat to you ? What about my brother ?
— Your brother ?
— Don’t play me for a fool, deputy. You think I can’t see through you ? You’ve had John under your thumb since you came here. You’ve been pushing him off the edge, pushing him into sin, taking advantage of his weaknesses. I hope for your sake that he finds his way back to the right path before it’s too late.
— I have no idea what you are talking about. I was simply forced to follow him because, like all the members of this cursed cult, he is completely insane and violent and does not hesitate to use force.
— You can’t hide behind smokescreen forever. I hope you will open your eyes and not drag my brother down into the underworld. I’m going to take you home now. I’d like you to rest, I’ll ask for a meal to be brought to you. Let’s sleep on it, I hope your mind will be clearer in the morning. And don’t do anything stupid.
He walked her back to her barracks and wished her good night. As unbearable as he was, she had to admit that he didn’t seem totally unreasonable and that he wasn’t completely closed to dialogue.
Shortly thereafter, a young woman brought her some pumpkin soup, a piece of bread and some corn on the cob. She hadn’t eaten much since the day before, and she didn’t notice until she began eating that she was starving. Recent events had not given her much time to concentrate on herself and her feelings. Everything was moving too fast. Don’t lose it Dana, hold on !
A rustle from behind the front door caught her attention. She stood up silently to investigate. Someone had slipped a paper under the door. She grabbed the document to read it. “Meet me behind the church in fifteen minutes”. Her heart leapt with joy. She was finally going to be able to hug John and tell him of her concern. She took advantage of the few minutes she had to cool her face and brush her hair, then slipped silently out of the barracks, making sure no one saw her.
* * *
There wasn’t a soul outside. Night had fallen and only the windows of a few buildings lit up the area, casting shadows of the tall willows on the dirt roads. She went to the back of the church, to the waterside, as requested.
John was waiting for her at the service door. His figure contrasted sharply in the gloom of the starry night, the lake’s waters reflecting the pale glow of the full moon on his blue satin shirt. He was extremely handsome. As he always is. She stopped for a few seconds to contemplate him from a distance, then finally approached. Once again, he stepped back, scanning the surroundings. When he was sure they were alone, he opened the door and calmly motioned for her to enter.
Once inside the building, she turned to greet him. Without listening to her, John pushed the door behind them as quietly as possible. With no warning, he threw himself on her to embrace and kiss her throat. His eagerness and his ardor flattered her. She let herself involve in the small following room, snuggled in his arms and embracing him in turn by returning him his burning kisses. Between two wet kisses, he murmured her what had haunted him since the afternoon.
— You are gorgeous. I want you. I am dying of desire since I saw you arrive at the chapel this afternoon.
Despite the surrounding darkness, she felt her cheeks flush. Good thing he couldn’t see her, she didn’t want him to know that such stupid compliments made her happy when they came from him.
He grabbed her by the hips and carried her to the main hall, where the sermon had been held. He pressed her against the stone lectern, on which Joseph’s book was still open. The Baptist’s hands lifting her dress over her thighs excited her to the highest degree, as did all the gestures he lavished on her in a brusque but passionate way.
He quickly noted her excitement, as his fingers slipped on the wet fabric of her underwear.
— Naughty girl. Why are you already so wet when I haven’t even touched you yet ? What are you going to do when I start to really work on you ?
She had grabbed his belt buckle as he muttered his threats while biting her throat.
He abruptly grabbed her by the thighs to sink into her, grunting with pleasure. She stifled a squeal as she buried her lips in his throat, but he pulled on her hair so that she leaned her head back and offered him her delicate neck skin.
— Don’t hold back. I want to hear you scream my name, sinner !
She moaned at his teeth assaulting her throat and his hips now slamming wildly against hers. She feared that someone would hear them, but obviously he didn’t care. Was it a bluff or simply the situation that had made him lose, once again, any notion of self-control ? Noting that she was still holding back her moans, more and more hardly, he accentuated his rhythm of movement and insisted
— Shout my name !
She articulated timidly, in a sigh.
— Louder !
He bit her jugular to support this new order.
— Oh John !
— It’s not loud enough yet !
— John !
* * *
— JOHN !
They both gasped at the call of his name by a male voice emanating from across the room. It was pronounced in a sufficiently dry, severe and frightening way that John immediately stopped all movement and withdrew from the deputy, straining his ear to try to identify its origin.
The bright beam of a flashlight shone upon them, its owner slowly approaching in their direction as he walked up the aisle of the chapel. His voice rang out again, in a sanctimonious tone.
— John, John…
He sighed, then continued.
— There’s nothing like being caught in the act to prove what you already know but nobody wants to admit. You are disappointing me !
When he was close enough, she recognized Jacob’s figure walking quietly in the dark. As soon as she caught sight of his squeaky, Machiavellian smile, she dreaded what was to come. She had barely taken the time to rearrange the bottom of her dress and was still clinging to the Baptist, who was holding her tightly, as if that would be enough to protect her from his elder brother’s wrath. Jacob continued.
— Do you think Joseph will be happy to know that you have fallen back into your vice and are satisfying your selfish lust with the enemy at the expense of our community ?
— Jacob, it’s not what you think !
— It isn’t ? Then explain it to me. What were you doing ?
— I haven’t fallen back into my old life, that chapter is long closed. How long have you been here ?
— Yeah, sure, if you say so… Long enough that I haven’t missed anything. The post slipped under the door, still works ! I loved your little performance, thanks for the show !
She realized she had been foolish to think the note had come from John. The idea that it could be a trap hadn’t even occurred to her. Apparently, Jacob had baited his brother in the same way, which comforted her a little.
He was now circling around them, staring at them like a wild beast circling its prey and coming closer and closer before tearing it apart.
— The sad part of all this is that you don’t want to share. But maybe you’ll change your mind knowing that Joseph could inadvertently find out about your little games at any time.
He grabbed the policewoman’s chin in his hand, forcing her to look him in the eye.
— What about this, little bird ? Would you scream that way for me ?
Jacob burst out laughing. The implied threat chilled her blood. Her nails dug deeper into John’s back, as his heart was pounding. He tried to defuse the situation by grabbing his brother’s wrist and pulling him away from Dana’s face.
— Let it go, Jacob. I’ll explain it all to Joseph myself tomorrow.
— Do you realize that he has already warned you and that you are on probation, that he will excommunicate you ? As far as she is concerned, I think that there is no longer any doubt that she will never absolve her sins. Joseph will make sure she goes to join her little friends in hell.
Jacob directed the beam of his lamp at the deputy’s face, glaring at her.
— As for you…
He pressed his thumb over the fresh bite mark John had left in her throat, flashing a devilish grin. She repressed a cry of pain.
— Why are you wasting your time getting fucked instead of putting your potential to work for a real cause ? Don’t you have any self-respect ?
He resumed his predatory round, speaking calmly but threateningly.
— Here’s the deal. Let’s say I didn’t see anything tonight, that everyone stayed locked up in their own house. Let’s say the deputy opens her eyes and resolves to join my ranks in the Whitetail Mountains. Let’s imagine that she trains my men, trains my judges, and assists me with some tactical tasks. Meanwhile, John would actively reinvest in the harvest and give Joseph his full satisfaction. Wouldn’t that be the best solution for everyone ?
She gave John a sad look, and he immediately returned it. No way out was acceptable, but Jacob’s was the least horrible of all.