© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner


The following morning, David was his normal happy self, God’s healing power and His peace obviously having erased the trauma of what had happened the previous day. The family was just finishing breakfast, with Serenity and Clint into their second cup of coffee, when Noah joined them. David finished his milk and then took off to his room to play his new Bible video game, so the adults were free to talk.

“Would you like to tell us about the plan you had beginning to form in your mind last night, Noah?” Clint asked.

“Yes, if you two have a little time now.”

“We do,” Serenity answered, filling his cup for him. “I don’t think I could concentrate too well on the article I’m supposed to be doing anyway, so I’d like to know what you have in mind.”

“Well . . . I don’t think I’ve got the whole picture from the Lord yet, but I feel pretty strongly that He wants me to talk with Pastor Carlyle and see if he wants to share some of my experience with the church . . . in light of the vast interest of people in this area in the Sally Stone books and games . . . along with the recent discovery of some obviously ritualistic animal sacrifices over in the next county.”

“That does sound like a good first step,” Serenity said. “And Pastor Carlyle will be a good man to pray with you about what should come next.”

He grinned. “My thoughts exactly. I don’t want to try to make any of these decisions alone, and he seems to be pretty knowledgeable about the activities in the spirit realm . . . good and bad.”

“I’ve thought so too, and I did hear him advising one of the members the other day against allowing their children to read the Sally Stone books. David said he had seen two or three kids from our church at the Library Club, so Pastor Carlyle may have already been trying to fight this battle for a while.”

Noah nodded his head. “What I’d like to ask is if you two would be willing to be there when I talk with him.” He put up his hand before they could say anything. “Before you answer, I want to assure you that if you don’t feel you can handle hearing all of it again, I will understand.”

Serenity looked at her grandfather, sure that she saw in his eyes the same feelings that she had, so she answered for both of them. “We want to be there, Noah . . . and not just for you. This community is our home, and we feel that we have a God-given responsibility to it, to help protect it from this demonic invasion.”

Noah nodded again. “All right. In that case, may I call him from here? I don’t see any reason to put this off any longer.”

“Please do, Noah,” Clint said.

Several hours later, Pastor Carlyle welcomed them warmly into his study, having been briefed by Noah about the subject of their visit, and he assured them that he wanted to hear everything Noah felt free to share with him. So Noah proceeded to tell him everything he had told Serenity and Clint the previous night and then assured him that he was now ready to do whatever God would have him do to try to stop the evil that was trying to get a strong foothold in Hamsted and the surrounding community.

Jim Carlyle leaned back in his desk chair and let out a heartfelt sigh. “Wow,” he said in a subdued voice, looking straight at Noah still yet. He had hardly taken his eyes from Noah’s face during the whole story. He had felt the man’s pain as he told it and could only imagine the degree of pain he’d felt as he had actually experienced all of it. “I certainly believe spiritual warfare is real, and I thought I had experienced my share of it, but I can tell you . . . and that very gratefully . . . that I have never had to face anything so devastating as what you’ve gone through, Noah. My heart goes out to you, and I’m almost hesitant to take you up on your offer to help enlighten the people here.”

“I prayed this all through before I made the offer, Pastor. I’m ready to follow through on my offer . . . with the Lord’s help.”

Pastor Carlyle leaned forward, resting his arms on his desk. “Let me hasten to add that although I’m hesitant to ask you to help, I’m certainly not going to refrain from doing so. We need you, Noah. The people here need to know what you’ve experienced, and they need to understand the connections with the Sally Stone materials, and other similar stuff. I’ve had a few words with two of our families already about refraining from letting their children read the books or see the movies, but I haven’t had much success. Most of the other churches in town don’t consider any of it a threat, and our families are like most Christians, I guess . . . they figure if everybody else is doing it with seemingly no harm being done, then why shouldn’t they?”

“But, Pastor, the Word of God itself is clear about God’s people staying away from anything connected with witchcraft,” Serenity said now. “How can they rationalize reading all of those books and watching those movies with what the Scriptures say?”

Jim Carlyle laughed lightly, although there was no real mirth in the sound. “You’ve just asked the question every sincere pastor wrestles with almost every day of his life, Serenity. Why can’t people understand that when the Lord says something in His Word, He actually means what He says. But I suppose part of the problem is that over the centuries, the church has had a lot of pastors telling people from the pulpits and Sunday School podiums that God doesn’t really mean what He says all the time.”

“It’s the same lie the serpent told Eve in the Garden of Eden,” Noah said now, and Jim nodded his agreement.

“You’re right, Noah. He’s never really changed his tactics. He’s just using more modern ways of getting his lies planted in people’s minds.”

Clint spoke up then. “So do you have something in mind to get this information out to the people in the church?”

Jim nodded. “Oh, yes. I’m going to call a special congregational meeting. I’ll announce it this Sunday morning and schedule it for the following Sunday afternoon, and I’m not going to tell them exactly what it’s about. If I do, the ones who most need to be here, won’t come. I’m just going to tell them that it concerns something that may affect the welfare of the people in this congregation more than anything else we’ve ever called a special meeting to discuss.”

“Have there been a number of that kind of meeting in the past?” Noah asked.

“Well, I’ve been here eight years, and we’ve had five during that period of time, so I think that point will be enough to get most everybody into the church to the meeting to hear what we have to say.” He stopped talking and sat deep in thought for a moment before he spoke again. “And . . . I think I’ll arrange for baby-sitting to be provided. I’ll ask a couple of the teenage girls who I’m sure already stay away from this Sally Stone stuff to keep any children in the Sunday School wing.”

“I can help with that if you need me to, Pastor,” Serenity offered.

“Thanks, Serenity, but I’d rather have you in the meeting as support for Noah if possible. We’ll see what I can work out with the other girls first.”

Serenity nodded her head in agreement. She wondered if Pastor Carlyle sensed that there was something between her and Noah that went deeper than mere friendship. She wasn’t sure what it was herself, but she had to at admit that, in her own heart at least, there were feelings and commitments that went very deep. Jim addressed Noah again.

“I’d like for you to tell everything that you’ve told me, Noah. Do you think you can do that another time?”

Noah nodded his head. “I’ve promised the Lord that I won’t hold back again, Pastor. He’s done too much for me, and I won’t try to get out of doing the whole job He’s given me to do.”

“All right,” Jim said, looking round the little group. “Is that all we need to discuss for now, or did you want to include me in plans to reach out to the community in some way?”

“I think I need to start with the police chief,” Noah said. “If I can get him to see some reason, we might be able to draw from the congregation, after they see the truth, and use some of those people to help influence the general public. And my next question was going to be one to you and Clint both. How well do either of you know Chief Art Weston?”

Jim Carlyle answered first. “I know him well enough to say that he and I have a good deal of respect for each other. He goes to one of the other churches in town, so I don’t spend much time with him, but everything I’ve heard about him indicates that he’s honest and basically moral.”

Noah looked at Clint then, who gave him his answer. “Art and I have known each other ever since he moved here. He’s about ten years younger than I am, so I don’t think you’d consider us ‘bosom buddies,’ but we have sat down to have a cup of coffee together from time to time when I’ve been in town, and I agree with Jim. Everything I know about him indicates that he’s a decent, trustworthy man.”

“Well, since you know him well enough to drink coffee with him, I’d say you’re the best one to introduce me to him,” Noah said, grinning at Clint.

Clint grinned back. “If that means you’ll offer to buy both of us a cup at the Beachcomber’s Coffee House, I’ll be glad to.”

They all managed a chuckle at that answer and began to stand up and prepare to go their separate ways. Pastor Carlyle walked up to Noah, extending his hand to him. “You’re a good and courageous man, Noah Bennett. I’m privileged to know you.”

Noah swallowed the lump in his throat caused by the pastor’s heartfelt words, and when he spoke, still gripping Jim’s hand, his voice was husky. “Thank you, Jim. You don’t know what a difference it makes to tell all of this to a pastor who doesn’t scoff or flinch at even one word of it.”

Jim didn’t speak. He just nodded his head, assuring Noah that he understood the point he was making. “I’ll be in touch in a few days to plan a little more about the meeting.”

“Fine,” Noah said, “and in the meantime, I’m going to call one of my deputies and have him send some materials from that case file to me so I’ll have something concrete to show the police chief when I talk to him.” He turned to allow Serenity to precede the men out the door.

She turned a little toward Jim briefly. “Thank you, Pastor.”

“Thank you . . . all of you.”

Clint spoke up then, resting his hand on the pastor’s shoulder. “You can rest assured that we’ll be in earnest prayer between now and the meeting, Jim.”

“I know that . . .” He sighed deeply. “And needless to say . . . so will I.”

As they were on the way to pick up David from Trent’s house, Noah said, “Let me take all of you out to supper this evening, what do you say?”

“That isn’t necessary, Noah,” Serenity answered before Clint had a chance.

“Of course it isn’t. I just want to do it. I’m in the mood for one of the specialties at The Fresh Catch Restaurant myself, and I don’t like eating out by myself all the time.”

“Then I’m in,” Clint announced from the back seat. “And I’m sure David won’t have to be talked into it.”

“All right,” Serenity said, laughing. “I’m out-voted, so I guess you can buy four dinners, Sheriff Bennett.” As soon as the words had left her tongue, Serenity held her breath. She hadn’t realized she was going to address Noah that way, but she remembered what had happened the other times she had done so. But to her relief, Noah didn’t seem to cringe or get any kind of sad look on his face this time. Evidently telling his story to people who could really help share part of the burden of it — and finally getting back into obedience to the Lord — had lifted the oppression that had accompanied the use of his official title on the previous occasions.

So after they picked up David, they returned to their respective homes to wash faces and hands, and change out of their shorts. Noah called for them about thirty minutes later, and they took off for the restaurant in good spirits. Those good spirits lasted the whole meal, and Serenity found herself amazed that they could actually be having fun this evening, when only twenty-four hours ago, they had all been focused on some of the most horrendous events they had ever endured.

But they had shared them with each other now, and that fact alone had made healing more possible . . . and the Lord Himself was giving them the assurance in their hearts that He was bigger than everything they faced at the hand of the enemy. As long as they walked in obedience to Him and in love, He would bring them through victoriously. So tonight, they just focused on each other and the joy their relationships brought to every one of them.

After they returned to the lighthouse, David was so heavy-eyed that Gramps said he was taking him in to prepare for bed, and leave Noah and Serenity to enjoy the beautiful evening a little longer. Serenity was a little concerned that Noah might feel obligated to stay because of what Gramps had said, so as soon as her grandfather was inside, she turned to Noah.

“Gramps didn’t mean that you should stay longer, Noah. I’m sure you’re really tired, considering all of the emotional trauma of the past couple of days, not counting the physical activity of yesterday’s events.”

Noah took her hand in his and gently led her toward the ocean. “Don’t be silly. I want to walk a while . . . let the ocean breeze blow through me. And I’d really like to have the company . . . unless you’re too tired,” he added, stopping and looking intently into her eyes.

“No, I’m fine. I’d like to walk a while,” she said and turned to walk to the water’s edge, still holding Noah’s hand.

After they had walked several feet, Noah spoke again. “Thank you, Serenity,” he said quietly.

She looked up at him. “For what?”

“For being there . . . being here . . . for supporting me . . . caring.” He grinned at her. “All of the above and so much more.”

She stopped walking and looked at him intently. “I wish I could have helped much more than I did, Noah. I . . . I guess I just don’t know how.”

He shook his head. “There really isn’t anything else that will help. Caring and praying are about the only things that can take some of the burden off . . . or heal any of the wounds.”

Serenity nodded her understanding and resumed walking, still holding his hand, and he squeezed her hand tightly as they walked farther. They stopped again after a few more minutes and just stood looking at the moonlit path across the water that was especially gentle tonight. The waves coming toward the shore were slow and undulating, the surf moving onto the beach in a soft caress.

Without conscious thought, Noah put his arm around Serenity’s waist, and she instinctively turned toward him a little. With that simple movement, Noah’s defenses came down, and he put his other arm around her too, drawing her against him. He sighed her name softly just before his lips covered hers in a kiss as gentle as the one the ocean had given the shore. But as that kiss robbed Serenity of her ability to reason, she put her own arms around Noah, and instantly he deepened the kiss until they were clinging to each other as if they were drawing their very life from that embrace.

Reasoning was something Noah refused to do at that moment. His thoughts tried to intrude — tried to remind him that he couldn’t be sure what his life held after the next month, and that he wasn’t being fair to Serenity in allowing these feelings to become so powerful. But he stubbornly forced those thoughts out. Maybe he was being selfish, taking this time to love and be loved by this woman, who was as beautiful inside as she was on the outside — but for the moment, he refused to judge himself.

Everything within him was telling him that he needed Serenity Lawrence — not just physically — but emotionally — spiritually — he needed her to make him complete. And as he gently ended the kiss, lifting his head and looking into her eyes, he allowed himself to recognize the whole truth — he loved this woman as he had never loved another — and whatever he did — wherever he went — he had to try to find a way to make her a part of him for the rest of his life.

He could see the vulnerability in her eyes — the questions. He knew he couldn’t answer all of them, but he could express what he felt. He lifted his hands and took her face gently, leaning down and touching his lips to one corner of her mouth, then the other corner, as he whispered, “You’re so beautiful, Serie.” He kissed her upper lip, letting go of it slowly so that he could do the same to her lower lip, whispering between kisses, “Not just on the outside, but inside as well . . . .” He kissed her fully again, but pulled away gently after only a couple of seconds in order to speak again. “You’re such a beautiful person inside that it brings a lump to my throat when I think of how blessed I am to have you in my life.”

He could see in her eyes an answering feeling, and as he folded her completely into his arms once more, the light he saw there turned to fire — a fire that matched the one flaming to life within him. She lifted her arms and wound them around his neck as he took possession of her lips again and allowed the raw hunger for her to be exposed for just that short period.

He wanted to make a commitment right now. He wanted to get a commitment from her right now. But finally, his reason got the upper hand. He knew he needed to wait until he could tell her what his life held in store for the next several years. So, slowly — very slowly — he began to pull back from the kiss, eventually freeing her lips and burying his face in her fragrant hair that was being tossed gently by the breeze. He still couldn’t make his arms let go of her, and when at last, she took her arms from around his neck and pulled back, he had to force himself to release her.

Serenity cleared her throat before she whispered, “I need to go in, Noah.”

He nodded, whispering in his turn. “I know, dear.” And without another word from either of them, they rejoined hands and began to walk slowly back toward the lighthouse. Noah saw her to the porch, and as she turned at the door to bid him goodnight, he just lifted his hand and touched her lips with one finger. “Goodnight, Serie,” he whispered.

“Goodnight,” she whispered back and turned to open the door. She didn’t look back at him again, but closed the door quietly behind her, and Noah stepped off the porch and returned to his car.

As Serenity walked into the living room, her grandfather looked up from his book and smiled at her. “He’s a pretty special man, isn’t he?”

“Yes . . . he is,” Serenity answered guardedly.

“And it seems he thinks you’re pretty special too,” he said, his eyes twinkling at her.

“I didn’t mean special to me, Gramps,” she said, taking a seat in the chair beside his. “I was answering in general.”

Her grandfather laughed out loud. “You can protest if you want to, little girl, but I’ve been in love myself, remember . . . deeply . . . wildly in love . . . with your blessed grandmother . . . and I know real love when I see it!”

Was that what she felt, Serenity asked herself now. Was it really love that she felt for Noah Bennett — the kind of love that binds two people together for a lifetime? And with what felt like a blow to her chest that robbed her of breath, Serenity Lawrence faced the answer to that question. Yes — that was exactly what she felt for Noah: uncomplicated — undiluted — indescribable — all out love!

She glanced at her grandfather, and his eyes still twinkled at her. His grin grew bigger as he understood that she had just now realized and admitted, to herself at least, that she was in love. He winked at her and nodded his head in satisfaction, before glancing back down at his book without saying another word. But Serenity jumped up. “I’m going to bed, I think. ’Night, Gramps,” she mumbled as she started from the room.

“Night, Sweetheart,” he answered, barely holding back a chuckle. When Serenity had gone, he leaned his head back against his chair. “Thank you, Lord,” he whispered. “You’ve done real good by my little girl.”

Chapter Fifteen tomorrow.

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