Forced to re-enter the world she so desperately ran from twenty years ago, she pushes herself to the limit to take on one of the biggest assignments she has ever undertaken. One where fear threatens to seize her heart and take her soul.
Can she finally break free from death’s clutches, risk it all, one more time?
Gripping from the very first page, the second installment in this Christian suspense thriller series promises to keep you on the edge of your seat once again as you walk alongside Jorja in the shadow of fear and through the valley of death!
"Yea, 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 (NIV)
Silence fell as Jorja’s words left her mouth and held Artem Sokolov’s attention hostage. His dark eyes pierced her soul, searching, intruding, verifying her pledge.
“I can get you the Salvator Mundi,” she repeated again, her voice slightly desperate as her eyes darted back and forth between Ben and the gun in Sokolov’s hand.
“I heard you, Jorja. I just don’t believe you.” Sokolov called her bluff.
“It’s the truth. I will get it for you if you let us go—all of us.”
Something in Sokolov’s eyes revealed that she had piqued his curiosity. She’d successfully hooked him, bought them some time.
But he wasn’t budging.
Her heart pounded in her chest, her mind frantically searching for what to say next that would clinch the deal toward their freedom.
“It’s worth a lot of money, Artem. Half a million dollars by the most recent estimate, but it’s worth a lot more to you in collateral.”
She kept his gaze and waited for him to respond. Except he didn’t. Instead, Gustav spoke.
“You’re a traitor, Georgina.” Gustav’s strained voice rang in her ears as he spat a ball of bloodied saliva towards her. Sokolov laughed aloud at Gustav’s unintentional confession before lowering the gun next to his side. “See, I knew you were hiding something, Züber. The two of you were planning a heist after all. And you said you weren’t partners anymore.” His tongue clicked against his teeth in disapproval as he moved to stand in front of Jorja.
“You surprise me, Jorja. I must confess. You had me for a moment. But that’s what you are good at, isn’t it? Being the mistress of deceit.”
“We weren’t planning anything, Artem. I didn’t lie to you.”
“She’s a liar!” Gustav yelled out. “Everything she says is a lie.”
His outburst had no effect on Sokolov, whose gaze continued to stare Jorja down. His eyes told her that he didn’t believe her and as his hand lifted away from his side once more to point his gun at Ben’s face, his cellphone rang.
The ringtone was that of a merry-go-round’s and it instantly snapped Sokolov’s attention away from them. He dropped his aim and turned to take the call. When, a few moments later, his face revealed that the call must have been from one of his children, Jorja silently prayed it would have him leave the room. She needed more time to solidify her plan, to find out what Gustav knew.
When Sokolov ended the call, he handed his gun to one of his henchmen before facing his captives. Once more, his eyes were on Jorja.
“You must think me a fool, Jorja. The Salvator Mundi was purchased in a legal auction several years ago and I happen to know who bought it. I don’t steal from my friends, not even to save my own skin.”
He turned and swiftly left the room, his men following close behind him.
When the door closed behind Sokolov and his three prisoners were left alone, Gustav wasted no time.
“I should’ve known better than to get in bed with the likes of you again. You’re an idiot, Georgina. You think you can bargain your way out of this, but you’re dead wrong. Artem Sokolov will kill us the moment you hand over that painting.”
“If you have a better idea to get us out of this mess alive, Gustav, then by all means, spit it out. I did what any normal human would do when a gun is pointed at her face.”
“Yes, well, I guess it blew up in your face, didn’t it? He’ll be back and then he will finish us all off.”
Jorja paused and ignored his bitter tirade. Her instincts were suddenly alive and she knew exactly why. “You don’t know where it is, do you.”
Gustav’s expression revealed she had successfully guessed the truth.
“How did I not see that? You are the fraud you’ve always been, Gustav Züber! You don’t have any idea where that painting is. Sokolov was right. It was sold via proxy at an auction and to this day, no one knows for certain who bought it or where it is. It’s been missing for years. I cannot believe I fell for it.”
Jorja looked away. Her insides were alive with fury. More than that, her body felt numb with fear.
She looked apologetically at Ben, whose warm eyes told her that everything would be okay. But she knew it wouldn’t. She had made a promise she could not deliver on. A promise made in good faith trusting a sworn enemy who had nothing but malice toward her. They were going to die, all of them, down in the dungeons where their murders would be hidden from the world, their identities dissolved as if they’d never existed.
Near silent sobs pushed into her throat as she hung helplessly from the rafters above.
“You played me, Gustav. Our death will be on your head. This is all on you. You’ll as much as pull the trigger yourself when he kills us. But the joke is on you, Gustav. During all our times together, you’d always told me how you wanted the world to remember you. The great Gustav Züber. Art extraordinaire. Master appraiser. But you are nothing more than a lowly murderer, a liar. That’s the legacy you’ll be leaving behind. That’s how the world will remember you. A cheating murderer.” Her voice sounded dejected.
“I didn’t play you, Georgina, and I’m not a murderer! I told you. I made many friends in prison and it just so happens that one of them is a member of a French mob. He told me the painting was hidden behind a wall somewhere in Abu Dhabi, and that he knew where.”
“And let me guess. You promised him a cut when I stole it for you, didn’t you?”
“Five percent. That’s it. The rest is ours.”
“Are you listening to yourself, Züber?” Ben spoke for the first time since Sokolov left. “You’re talking as if there is still a deal on the table, trusting our lives in the hands of a French mobster’s tip-off. That’s if this mobster friend of yours is, in fact, even telling you the truth. Because, if he really knew where it was, then why not just steal it himself? You were duped, man, and now we’re all going to die because of it.”
“I wasn’t duped. He had it on good authority. I trust him.”
“Trust him? You’re insane, Züber. The man’s a gangster who will say anything you want to hear when you share a jail cell,” Ben scoffed.
“It doesn’t matter now anyway,” Jorja said. “Who cares if your French mobster friend told the truth or not. Sokolov has one up on us. Criminals like him are all in cahoots with one another. Heck, it might even be hidden behind one of his walls for all we know.”
“The man told me the truth. Once you share a cell with an inmate there’s a bond nothing can break. We stood together, had each other’s backs. He’s good for it.”
“Like I said, Gustav, it doesn’t matter. Sokolov isn’t interested. We don’t have any bargaining power without a worthwhile trade,” Jorja reasoned.
“Oh, Artem Sokolov will come around. Just you wait and see. I’ve done enough business with him over the years to know what it looks like when a man has his back against the wall. You were right about one thing, Jorja. The Salvator Mundi was auctioned and bought by proxy, but it left the auction house and never made it to its destination. You, of all people, should know the bounty that would have been placed on that painting. I can think of at least a dozen very influential men who would have paid a small fortune to intercept that transfer. And as it happens, my guy worked for one of them.”
Their conversation was interrupted when Sokolov re-entered the room. His facial expression looked noticeably different from when he had left earlier and Jorja spotted it immediately as he walked toward them. Under his heavy, dark eyebrows, his eyes took hers prisoner and lingered on her face. She tried to think of something to say but words escaped her. This was it. Their time was now.
Sensing what was to come, her eyes filled with tears and she looked sideways at Ben.
Each refusing to give Sokolov the satisfaction of seeing the pain in their eyes, Ben and Jorja held their gaze, resolute to face death’s dark welcome together. In the hollow, cold underground space they heard Sokolov’s finger pull back the hammer of his revolver, waited for the firing pin to slam against the cylinder that would discharge the first bullet, each expecting them to be first.
Gustav yelled, “No, please, stop!” But the thunderous clapping of the gunshot echoed through the space and instantly silenced Gustav’s pleas.
Jorja’s body shook uncontrollably when she realized Sokolov had shot and killed Gustav. Tears tightened her throat as she fought back the urge to explode into a sobbing mess. She will not give Sokolov the vengeful satisfaction he had been seeking, even if she choked to death on her fear.
Resolved in the knowledge that Ben would most probably be next, she shut her eyes and prayed that God forgave her for her part in it all, and that He would meet them both on the other side.