It had been three days since John and Dana officially lived together in Henbane’s cottage. They were doing relatively well together, although Seed wasn’t used to having to share such a small space with someone else.
That January morning was particularly chilly. They enjoyed a coffee together in the small kitchen before John set off for the Eden’s Gate complex. He had not completely given up his work for the Project, even if he had decreased the quantity of it. He hoped to be able to reconcile his life with the deputy and his implication towards his brothers.
To achieve this, he needed to speak frankly to Joseph, inform him of the situation, and make him accept his relationship with Dana. He planned to do this soon, and to convince his brother to celebrate the wedding within the cult so that it would be recognized by all. Dana brought up the subject.
— When do you plan to talk to Joseph ?
— I was thinking of doing it at an upcoming meeting.
— Yes, it would be good to do it soon.
— You’re right. I’ll talk to him today. In fact, I’ll go right now.
He kissed her quickly before putting on his coat and going out. She watched him through the window, scraping the icy windshield of his oversized pickup. Hopefully Joseph would gave him his blessing. She still hated him. Yet she knew how important his approval was to John. The Baptist had great respect for his siblings, whom he considered the only people who had shown him kindness.
* * *
— She’s the devil, John. Look around you. Any woman in the Project would give you her body and soul. Most would give anything to bear your children. Why her ?
— She’s not like any other woman, Joseph. She doesn’t want my money or my fame. She appreciates me for who I am.
— Bullshit. She’s been using you, right from the start. She perverts you with her impure thoughts. And you want her because she is forbidden to you. You’ve always been attracted to evil. And I am here to protect you from it.
— I am no longer a child, Joseph. You don’t need to protect me from Dad anymore.
He hesitated before continuing.
— You’ve been through this too. Remember that.
The Father frowned and closed his eyes. He didn’t want the painful memories to come back.
— Don’t talk to me about her, John. You have no right to. She was pure and innocent. Don’t compare her to that devil.
Jacob entered the room, interrupting the discussion. He grabbed a seat and sat backwards, leaning his chest against the backrest.
— What are you talking about ? Little miss wrath, again ?
— Your brother is trying to convince me that he should officially marry that deputy. She’s brainwashed him good.
The elder brother gave the younger one a questioning look.
— Is that true, John ?
The Baptist did not answer. Anyway, no matter what I say, they’ll find an argument against me. He was beginning to lose hope. Jacob turned back to Joseph and continued.
— Obviously, John loves this woman. And this woman loves him.
John looked up at him with astonished eyes.
— You’re wrong, Jacob.
— Don’t you love her ?
— Of course I do. But she doesn’t have the same feelings for me. Only you two can love me. I am a monster.
— Deep in your heart, you know the truth, John. Why would you want to marry someone who uses you to satisfy their demonic urges ?
— Because I have to. I can’t go on like this. I’m lying to the world. I’m lying to you, Joseph.
— Explain yourself.
— It’s been too long.
— How long ?
— Four months. Since she arrived in Hope County.
The Father looked at him in amazement.
— We need to treat you, John. Your urges are getting worse with time. I mistakenly thought that I could calm them down with my prayers and support. But I realize I was wrong. You are much more damaged than I thought.
— You don’t understand ! Yes, I was drawn to her by my impulses. And yes, I gave in to it. But over time, things have changed. When I’m with her, I feel good. It’s like the emptiness inside me disappears. She calms my anxieties, quenches the rage that consumes me. My urges have not disappeared, but I know how to canalize them now. And they are directed only towards her, her and nobody else.
The Baptist looked into the Father’s eyes and took his hands in his own.
— Please Joseph, give me your blessing. It is very important to me. I will marry her anyway, but your approval would make me really happy and proud.
Joseph looked first at John and then at Jacob. The elder Seed nodded quietly, indicating his approval.
— Very well. I may accept this union. But you must assure me she will not interfere with the Project. And I wish to be consulted for any decision relative to the ceremony. I will officiate and unite you before God and our believers.
John rose so suddenly to embrace his brother that his seat tipped over and crashed to the floor.
— Thank you Joseph, thank you ! You can count on me, I won’t let you down again.
— I love you brother. Your happiness is all that matters to me. If this sinner can bring it to you, then I must accept it.
Jacob laid a friendly hand on the shoulders of each of his brothers.
— We are finally together as a family. Come on John. Let’s go tell Faith and reserve a few pounds of flowers for the decoration.
He had a hard time separating John from his elder brother. When it was done, they both left the barracks and walked towards John’s pick-up. Jacob spoke to him in a low voice.
— What the hell were you saying ?
— What are you talking about ?
— That shit talk about how no one can love you. Do you really believe in the bullshit you’re talking about ?
— Just let it go. You can’t understand.
— Look, I know you had a rough childhood. If you think mine, at military school, was any better, let me tell you you’re wrong. We all suffered abuse from our biological parents and endured a crappy life afterwards. But that doesn’t give you the right to say and think such crap. You are loved, John. Joseph loves you. Faith loves you. I love you. And this woman loves you.
— You are wrong, Jacob. She enjoys my company. She enjoys the time we spend together, and she loves the things I do to her. But these are all behaviors and actions. It’s not me. It’s not me she loves, it’s the person I try to be to satisfy her. I am not that man. I’m a monster and I don’t deserve anyone’s love, but I’m aware of it and I’m happy with that. If she’s happy this way, then I am too.
Jacob was stunned by his younger brother’s speech. How could he have such a low opinion of himself ?
— Damn it, John. Can you hear yourself talk ? How can you believe for one second the shit you’re talking about ? Those Duncan assholes really did destroy you.
He hesitated for a moment before continuing.
— What about the baby ?
John’s eyes widened.
— How do you know ?
— Faith told me. Don’t blame her, I got her to drop it.
The Baptist shamefully stared at the floor.
— There’s no baby anymore.
— I know.
He stopped walking to stare into Jacob’s eyes, puzzled.
— What are you trying to tell me ?
— This woman bore your child, John. She’s a law enforcement deputy sent here to arrest Joseph. To arrest all of us, including you. But instead, what did she do ?
John looked away and started walking again, Jacob at his heels. The elder Seed continued.
— I’ll tell you what she did. She braved all the dangers to be by your side. She denied her role as a sworn officer. She gave up our arrests. She turned her back on her friends, and even her ex-husband, who loves her so much that he came to this godforsaken place to bring her home safely. She let you tattoo her. She let you skin her, and she asked me to scarify her. Why do you think she went through all this ?
— Because she understood the Power of Yes and found the way, plain and simple.
— No, you idiot. Everything she did, she did for you. Just for you. For your love. Because she loves you. We all do.
He stopped John, grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.
— How could anyone be so blind ? Damn it, John. Of the three of us, you’re the one who’s done the best. You’re brilliant, smart, handsome. How can you think you’re not worthy of love ? I had my chance, Joseph had his chance. We didn’t take it. Now that it’s your turn, I wish you wouldn’t screw it up like we did.
He pushed his fingers harder into his younger brother’s collarbones.
— Wake the fuck up ! This opportunity won’t come around twice. You must accept what God has planned for you. Learn to love yourself, John.
The Baptist was speechless. The soldier removed his hands from his shoulders. With a sigh of dismay, he put his arms around John to hug him.
— I love you, baby brother. I will never again let anyone hurt you and Joseph. You’re torturing yourself, and I can’t let you. I’m partly responsible for this, and you can’t imagine how much I blame myself. I had a lot to do with turning you against her, and I was wrong. I didn’t realize until recently how much her presence has benefited you. You’re not the same, John. Since she came into your life, I’ve seen you smile. I’ve seen you fight like you’ve never fought before. I’ve seen you rebel against Joseph and against me. I don’t like it, but I’ve never seen you take a stand like that before.
John put his arms around Jacob and hugged him, sobbing. No one had ever hugged him like that or said such things to him. His brother’s words had shaken him.
— I’m proud of you, John. The Project is important, but your happiness must come first. I apologize for the horrible things I said about Dana. I didn’t realize how important she is to you. I know I hurt you and I’m sorry. I only want you to be happy. So now I’d like you to accept the fact that she loves you — as well as all of us do — and stop questioning yourself. You have the right and the duty to be happy. Stop trying to make yourself suffer unnecessarily, you don’t deserve it and never have.
John was crying his eyes out in his older brother’s arms. Jacob consoled him for a few moments, then he pushed him gently away.
— Come on, emotional and weak moment is over. You have a ceremony to plan. Let’s go get those flowers and see the look on Faith’s face when we tell her the news !
* * *
Dana woke up early in the morning. John was still sleeping peacefully beside her. She watched him for a few moments, absentmindedly stroking an invisible line from his neck to his shoulder.
Now that he had spoken to Joseph, who had given his blessing, there was nothing standing in the way of their marriage. Oh, yes… Killian maybe. No, I don’t think he’ll show up again, not after everything that’s happened.
She was looking forward to no longer having to hide anything from anyone. As fun as their secret relationship had been at first, it was becoming more and more burdensome as time went on. She longed for the serenity of a normal married life, with no secrets, no drama and no violence or pressure. The only negative point that remained was not the least, but she could not do anything about it : the in-laws.
She raised her hand in front of her eyes to admire her wedding ring. It’s going to be hard for me to take it off, even if it’s temporary. She gently kissed the Baptist’s neck before getting up to make coffee and an egg roll.
He slid behind her to hug her as she poured orange juice into the glasses.
— Mmmhhhhh, my wonderful bride-to-be…
— Too bad, you just missed breakfast in bed.
— Oh, how sad. We’ll make up for it another time. We have a big day ahead of us.
She turned around to hug him back and give him a little kiss on the lips.
— Ah, how’s that ?
— Well, you know… we must give instructions for the chapel decoration, buffet, music…
She interrupted him by putting her index finger on his lips.
— What ?
— I don’t need all that, John. I just want our union to be officially ratified and recognized. No need for a big celebration.
— But maybe I want one ?
— You ? You want a fancy wedding ?
— Why not ?
She shrugged. He’s never been married, unlike me. And he’s pretty extravagant. I shouldn’t be surprised.
— All right. So eat your breakfast and let’s get started.
— Okay, Mrs Seed.
Stroking her hand, he scolded her.
— And don’t forget to take off your wedding ring.
— I’ll take it off just before we leave.
After breakfast, she had to choose the outfit she would wear, which was no small task. She was carefully examining the open closet when he slipped in behind her once more and put an arm around her waist.
— Pick out this.
He reached out to grab a hanger on which hung a pale pink dress. Very short.
— John, it’s winter. It’s cold.
— Don’t worry, we’ll be warm at the complex. Please. I like to see you in a dress. You look exquisite. Take my coat, the one you like so much, with the little planes.
She smiled. What is he saying ? She wanted to please him. She took the dress, having sighed loudly beforehand. Ah, men…
They took the pick-up late in the morning to go to the complex. First, they had to talk to the whole siblings, which Dana was dreading. Faith would obviously be totally devoted to the organization of the ceremony.
On the other hand, she was afraid of Jacob’s reaction, and especially Joseph’s. He still did not accept the fact that she would not join their ranks, despite her union with her brother. John pulled her out of her thoughts, taking off his hand from the steering wheel and putting it on her knee.
— You don’t say anything. You okay ?
— Yes, I am. I’m a little apprehensive about the interview with Joseph.
— Why is that ?
— You know very well that even if he gave you his blessing, he doesn’t approve. I’m afraid he’ll pressure me again to join Eden’s Gate.
— Don’t worry, I’m sure everything will be fine.
He leaned in to kiss her cheek, while keeping his eyes on the road.
* * *
They went straight to the chapel, where a large table had been set up. She glanced at John, as if to say, “Isn’t this a little over the top ?”. He smiled at her and shrugged. His siblings were already seated. Upon seeing them, Joseph stood up, his arms spread wide to embrace them.
— My children. Welcome. Let’s sit down and share a meal before we get down to the business at hand.
They did so and sat down side by side, greeting Faith and Jacob on the fly. The siren happily started the conversation with banalities, making sure that Dana was doing well and enjoying Henbane River, while Jacob and Joseph discussed the next convoy of judges.
A pinch startled the deputy. John had put his hand on her knee and was squeezing it hard. She turned to him, glaring at him. He also threw her a black glance. He vociferated in her ear.
— Your ring, damn !
Shit ! She quickly slid her hands under the table to remove it discreetly. I hope no one saw it. The discussions were animated and none of the Seeds seemed to be paying attention to the little game that was going on under the tablecloth. She leaned over to whisper in the Baptist’s ear.
— What shall I do ? I have no pockets !
— Give it to me, I’ll put it in mine.
She discreetly put the ring in his palm. She let out a sigh of relief. Seed leaned back into her ear, resting his hand on her knee at the same time.
— You deserve some punishment, wrath.
She gave him an offended, accusing look as his hand moved up her thigh.
— What do you think, Dana ?
— What ? Uh…
Faith smiled at her with all her teeth.
— Well, how about white flowers, or pastel ? Pink, for example ?
— Uh… I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it.
— We could do both ! What do you think ?
John’s palm was now caressing her inner thigh, coming dangerously close to her intimacy. Oh fuck. At his touch, she was already soaked.
— Uh… if you want.
— What do you mean, if I want ? It’s your wedding, after all ! It’s up to you to tell me what you prefer !
— I must think about it, you take me by surprise.
She glanced nervously at John, who smiled innocently at her while slipping a finger under the hem of her panties. Without taking his eyes off Dana, he replied to Faith.
— Don’t worry, Dana is very… excited about this wedding. But she knows what she wants and she’ll let you know in due time.
What the hell is he playing at ? His fingers were now venturing into the folds of her intimacy. She tried to tighten her thighs to cut off his access, in vain. Faith resumed her interrogation.
— Can I be your bridesmaid ?
— Great, I’ve always dreamed of it !
Dana turned to give John a lost and pleading look. He had slipped two fingers inside her and was wiggling them, slowly torturing her clit with a third. She whispered.
— What, Dana ?
— Please… stop this right now !
Oh fuck. She was beginning to pant dangerously. Shivers of delight ran through her body as he increased the pace and pressure.
— John, pass me the water.
Phew. For once, she inwardly welcomed Jacob’s intervention. The Baptist suddenly pulled his hand away to bend over and grab the jug with his other hand, holding it out to his brother.
Still stunned, Dana breathed a sigh of relief. What the hell is he doing ? Her eyes widened as he slowly slid his fingers to his mouth to suck on them, one by one. Holy shit.
She got up in one go, mumbling an apology, and rushed into the adjoining pantry to calm her emotions quietly, away from John’s fiery gaze. It was a close call.
The door abruptly opened on the Baptist.
— Why the hell did you follow me ?
— I came to fulfill my marital duties.
— John, damn it !
— Shut up, they’ll hear you.
He tackled her face against the wall, slipping a hand under her dress again.
— I like it when you wear dresses.
Alright. That’s why he was so keen on this outfit !
— Stop it ! Your brothers and sister are right next door.
— That’s the point. I don’t want to hear you, understand ? You’ll see what it’s like to provoke me in front of my family by keeping your wedding ring.
— But I didn’t mean to… Ah !
His fingers were again inside and against her. She stopped struggling. Anyway she would not be able to get out of his embrace, he was holding her with all his weight.
— You like that, sweetheart ?
— No need to answer. Your body already tells me everything. Come on, cum for me !
— Ah ! John…
He approached her ear to whisper.
— Hush ! In silence.
She was already wetting profusely on his fingers, undulating her hips in cadence with the Baptist’s movements to meet his hand. She moaned and pleaded with him once more.
He placed his free hand on the deputy’s mouth to make her stop and to choke the cries which she would certainly not delay any more to push, containing her orgasm with difficulty. Very quickly, he felt her compressing in an uncontrollable way on his fingers, shaken with violent spasms.
She breathed in a jerky way and her saliva invaded his palm, still plated on her lips. He withdrew his hand from Dana’s intimacy to pull down her panties and undo his belt.
— And now, I am going to fuck you, Mrs. Seed.
He sank brutally into her, holding her by the hips, drawing another moan from her.
— John ! They’ll hear us !
— Shh !
Oh fuck. It’s so good. So intense. She had not yet recovered from her orgasm and already new waves of pleasure were taking hold of her. The situation was making her even more excited. One of the Seeds could at any moment cross the threshold of the room and surprise them. The deep contact of John made her mad. She struggled to contain the scream that wanted to come out of her throat, reducing it to a whisper.
— Oh John, yes !
— You’re so good, baby.
He poured into her in a contained rattle, before collapsing against her back. They lay there for a few moments, catching their breath. When he pulled back, Dana was finally able to turn around and face him. She looked at him as he took off his condom and tied a knot in it.
— Did you have this with you ?
— You always have to be prepared. Especially when you got a hot wife like you. Come on, hurry up and make yourself presentable.
She got dressed as best she could and looked at herself in the mirror at the other end of the room. Except for the crimson color of her cheeks and her messy hair, there was no sign of her post-coital satisfaction. She smiled at her reflection and brushed her hair back with her fingertips before heading for the door. John whispered in her ear as she passed.
— Don’t you dare provoke me again. Now you know where you stand.
When they sat down at the table, Joseph looked at them questioningly. The Baptist took the initiative to answer his silent question.
— Dana was not feeling well. The wedding planning was causing her some stress. But now she feels better, don’t you ?
She nodded silently, certain she was blushing again. Joseph spoke up.
— Well, I’m glad to hear you’re relieved.
You don’t know how much.
— Let’s get back to the ceremony.
The rest of the discussion seemed distant to Dana. She was lost in her delightful thoughts, remembering over and over again John’s hips hitting her skin, his hands and his cock inside her. She nodded absentmindedly from time to time, not really taking part in the proceedings. In fact, she didn’t care. She’d already had a wedding ceremony with all the hype, and it hadn’t brought her anything more than a divorce.
When the meal was over, Joseph asked to speak to her privately in the office. She blushed as she felt John’s gaze on her. She glanced in his direction. He was lewdly smiling at her. I know what you’re thinking. And I’m thinking about it too. Her heart began to beat wildly. She quickly looked away to focus on Joseph. Control yourself, Dana.
They both sat down at the small table and the Father began a sermon as he was wont to do. She had to make a special effort not to roll her eyes and pretend she was listening. This is important for John. Do it for him.
He then began a litany about family, its values and the unconditional love that siblings should have for each other. Blaaa blaa blaa. The speech seemed to go on forever. When he finally stopped talking, Joseph put his hand on hers.
— I’d like to make sure you’re doing the right thing.
— Of course, why wouldn’t I ?
— You’re going to say yes to my brother. I want you to know that once you do, there is no turning back.
Is he serious ? He doesn’t know about divorce ? And why would I want to go back ? Joseph continued.
— Are you sure you really know John ?
She smiled, thinking back to their earlier encounter.
— I think I know him well enough to want to marry him.
— I wasn’t referring to the biblical meaning of the word know.
She grinned. Oh, fuck it.
— My brother has a few problems when it comes to controlling himself.
— I’ve noticed that, thanks. Nothing I can’t handle.
— Are you so sure ?
Shit, what’s he getting at ?
— What about Jezebel ? Are you okay with that ?
Dana’s heart leapt. Holy shit. Who the fuck is that ? Another ex-girlfriend ? She tried to preach the false to know the truth.
— I don’t care, his past is his own.
— I like the way you think, deputy. But don’t forget that some problems never fully heal and always resurface, sooner or later. My brothers joined me in this Project because I saved them from their past.
He stood up abruptly and offered her a hand, which she shook. She quickly threw John’s coat over her shoulders.
— Well, it remains for me to wish you good luck and to congratulate you. I am delighted to welcome you to our family. I’ll let you join my brother.
* * *
He was waiting for her outside the car. She hurriedly got in and nervously buckled her seatbelt before the Baptist started the car and headed for Henbane River.
— So ?
— So what ?
— What did Joseph want with you ?
— He wanted to make sure I knew you well enough before I said yes.
— Do you ?
— I don’t know. You tell me.
The Baptist gave her a look that was both worried and questioning.
— What do you mean ?
— Who is Jezebel ?
For fuck’s sake.
From the way his features had frozen at the mention of the name, she immediately understood that he was hiding something from her. Something heavy. He remained silent.
— So ?
— Not now.
— Why not ?
— Not now, I said. We’ll talk about it at home.
— No, John !
She abruptly pulled the handbrake and the steering wheel, causing the car to skid violently and almost flip over. Once it was still, she turned off the ignition and removed her seat belt to face the Baptist.
— I want to know. Now.
— Damn it !
— No need to swear. Joseph told me he saved you from your past. What does that mean ? What would have happened if he hadn’t got you involved in his damned project ?
— It’s all in the past !
— WHO THE FUCK IS JEZEBEL ?
He took a deep breath and ran both hands over his face before beginning his explanation in a feverish voice.
— She was my business partner in Atlanta. I was burning the candle at both ends back then. I regularly threw huge parties to which I invited numerous personalities from the country and elsewhere. Politicians, military, TV hosts… all sorts of people who could be useful to me and whom I could trap.
— And ?
— And Jezebel provided me with everything I needed to hold these parties. Alcohol, drugs, girls…
He stared at her pleadingly. Please don’t make me say more…
— Were you doing her ?
— I was.
I knew it.
— So what ?
— So that wasn’t enough for her. She wanted more.
— What do you mean by more ?
— She wanted me to take her to restaurants, to hold her hand in public, to sleep with her. I told her I couldn’t give her what she wanted.
And that’s it ? That’s what’s got him in such a state ? He continued, staring blankly at the dashboard.
— It was shortly after Joseph landed in Atlanta and Jacob was found. When I refused to get together with her, she threatened to cut me off.
— So what ? You had money, right ?
— Yes, plenty. Alcohol wasn’t a problem, but drugs… do you know how hard it is to get them without people knowing ?
Why would I know ? So he was an addict.
— After three days, I was freaking out. The craving was too strong, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate or work. I spent the morning downing whiskey in my office, then went to knock on her door. I tried to reason with her, but she wouldn’t listen. She was driving me crazy. I grabbed her and squeezed her throat. I squeezed her until she shut up. I was out of my mind. Once she was no longer able to speak, I raised my fist and hit her. I hit her, again and again, until she fell to the floor.
Dana’s eyes widened in horror. Oh my God.
— Did you kill her ?
— No, I don’t think so. She was alive when I left her. Panicked, I immediately called Joseph, remembering that he had told me about a project he wanted Jacob and me to be a part of. He picked me up and the three of us immediately left the state.
She stared at him in disbelief, unable to swallow.
— Say something, please…
— Did you hit her because she loved you ?
— No. Because she refused to say yes to me when I asked her to reconsider.
For fuck’s sake. He’s even more damaged than I thought. And that means his insanity goes back to before Eden’s Gate. He’s always been a monster, and he always will be. She thought back to the many times he had put his hands on her throat, threatening to strangle her. That could have been me.
— Dana, I’ve changed. I haven’t touched alcohol or drugs since I’ve been here, you must believe me. I’m not John Duncan anymore.
— You’re not ? Did John Duncan fuck and made Holly disappear ?
— Come on, I’ve atoned for that ! And I already explained to you that Joseph excommunicated her, I didn’t hurt her !
— Did John Duncan get his hands on Holland Valley, “cleanse” and forcibly torture innocent victims ?
— Dana, please…
— Did John Duncan tattoo this SHIT on my chest, then rip it off with his own hands without batting an eye ? Did John Duncan confine and torture Hudson ?
— Let me…
— Shut the fuck up, Seed ! You hide behind God to try and justify all the shit you do, but you’re just a fucking psychopath fulfilling your sick urges. I mistakenly thought it was Joseph who blinded you, but obviously you’ve always been a psycho ! Get some treatment !
In tears, she threw herself on the door handle to rush out of the car. Seed yelled but made no attempt to follow her.
— Dana, come back ! I’m begging you ! You can’t go out like that, it’s cold !
But she didn’t look back and ran as fast and as far as she could. This guy is completely mad. He’s a torturer, a killer and a drug and alcohol addict. I never want to see him again !