Hotter than a Texas wildfire and harder to control, Sunny Acres is a high-spirited, blond-haired, blue-eyed South Texas cowgirl with an affinity for trouble. When she wakes one night to find herself in a strange and unfamiliar place, she knows she’s stepped in a pile of it again, and this time, it’s going to cost her, because trouble is always worse when you enjoy it.
Mysteriously transported to a magnificent garden on the outskirts of Paradise, she encounters a heavenly body in the form of a man named Jakeh, (Trouble Incarnate), who is much more than he pretends to be, and far too compelling for Sunny to deny. He tells her he has been sent by God to teach her about her destiny in a war against Hell and the demons that will soon be invading Earth.
Sunny is skeptical, at first, but when Jakeh takes her universe hopping between the dark dominions of Hell and the war-torn nation of Iraq, she becomes a believer fairly quickly. On her journey, she learns that she has been chosen, along with three hunky American military men, to be bound together as The Armor of God, at war with the rulers of darkness and evil. The four are given extraordinary powers, some for violence, and some for pleasure, a mixture that proves to be a volatile combination. Profound and Earth-altering events are in the forecast, but Sunny isn’t worried, because Hell hath no fury like a woman in cowboy boots packing lead. And the bad guys had better be ready, because if they’re going to be stupid, they’d better be tough. Sunny and her men cut them no slack, and mercy is not an option. Plenty of blood is shed and lives are lost in an epic battle where the entire future of mankind is at stake.
I’ve always been a magnet for trouble. I don’t go out looking for it, and I don’t try to make my life more exciting by stirring it up, but it always seems to be attracted to me anyway. So whenever I find myself up to my bootstraps in a steaming heap of it, I’m usually not unduly surprised. But this time was different. There was no way I could have seen this coming, probably because my eyes were closed at the time.
One minute, I was counting sheep on the back of my eyelids, and the next, I found myself lying on my backside in the soft grass of a magnificent garden, still barefooted and wearing my short red nightie. I knew immediately it wasn’t a dream. There wouldn’t be grass tickling my thighs in a dream, or cool breezes blowing my hair about like weightless feathers. This was trouble, I knew, pure and simple.
Warily, I stood up and looked around, wondering how in the hell I got there. I was pretty sure I wasn’t in Texas anymore. Flowers of every color graced the magnificent landscape along pathways covered in lush green grass. The trees and shrubs were all pristine, without a brown leaf to be seen. Fruit and flowers decorated nearly every branch. Unseen birds sang joyfully from the treetops and deer scampered in the distance. Maybe the Garden of Eden had been more beautiful, but I had never seen better.
With all the gentle sounds and natural beauty surrounding me, I should have felt more at ease, which made me think that’s how someone wanted me to feel, which made me a little paranoid. I am not an overly trusting person, and my spider senses were already tingling. Just because everything looked peaceful and nice, I knew, didn’t mean it would stay that way. Even the Garden of Eden had held its share of unspeakable evil, which ultimately changed the entire course of human history for all time, and not in a good way.
“Do not be afraid,” said a deep velvety voice from behind me. I nearly jumped right out of my skin.
I spun around, only to be stunned into jaw-dropping stillness at the sight of the man I was not supposed to be afraid of. He was breathtaking, the sheer essence of Trouble in the flesh, and he looked like he knew it. He was tall and muscular, with dark eyes and black hair that fell in long, loose waves. His beard was immaculately trimmed and he wore a short white toga decorated with gold embroidery, baring half of his gloriously tanned chest. I tried to appear unaffected, but I must confess, I experienced a hormonal surge of epic proportions that caused my breath to catch in my throat and made me forget to be afraid.
He smiled at me, looking cool and self-assured, like the cat just before he ate the canary. “You are not what I expected,” he said with an amused tone in his deep, masculine voice. He was practically ogling me from top to bottom as he began to walk in a wide circle around me.
“What? You ordered a red head?” I responded with my typical, smartass attitude, crossing my arms in a defensive posture.
“I was expecting a man, but you will do nicely,” he said, all smiles and sexuality, with a hint of an accent that I couldn’t place. He was still looking me over like a horse he was thinking of buying. I half expected him to inspect my teeth next. He definitely looked like he wanted to take me for a ride.
He stopped in front of me. “And your name is…?”
“Sunny, you know, like bright sunny day.”
He nodded, as if I had given the right answer. I waited a couple of heartbeats, expecting him to return the courtesy. He didn’t.
“And your name is…?” I asked with an expectant look. He ignored me and advanced a step, mischief sparking in his eyes. I backed away. He pressed forward, and again, I retreated. He seemed determined to get up close and personal. The only way I could keep him out of my space was to run from him, and I didn’t see any point in that. I gave up and let him come.
“You are a very pleasant surprise, but I am harmless, I promise,” he said, with a smile that hinted at delightful possibilities.
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s what the Serpent told Eve, too,” I said suspiciously. If he was trying to look harmless, it wasn’t working. I flinched as he reached out to lift a lock of my hair. He let it cascade through his fingers while keeping perfect eye contact. Fortunately, this man seemed bent on seduction, not violence, and he wasn’t wasting any time.
His expression held a peculiar intensity, as if gauging my reactions. “I am not here to seduce you, although, the thought did cross my mind," he said, eyes flirting. "I am here as a Servant of God.”
“Servant of God?” I repeated, skepticism edging my voice.
“That is right,” he said with a brazen grin.
I eyed him carefully. He didn’t seem very godly by the way he was looking at me, and he didn’t exactly inspire godly thoughts. He gazed at me unashamedly, as if I were some tasty morsel he couldn’t wait to put his mouth on. I felt his eyes on my body like a strange heat wherever he looked, and I knew my nibblets must be standing at attention. I fought the urge to cross my arms again. He just looked so good, it was down right distracting, and it wasn’t just his body and his face and his hair and his eyes, it was the way he carried himself. He had the strong commanding presence of a warrior, with the easy grace and arrogance of a king. Or maybe I was wishing.
“So, you’re what...an angel?” I asked, trying to keep my mind on track.
“No, I am not an angel. I lived my life thousands of years before you were born,” he said incredibly, “but I am very human.” He reached out and pulled me firmly against him, “I would love the chance to prove it to you.”
My breath caught in my throat as my hormones fought for control of my brain. My face flushed hotly, heart throbbing in my ears, but I managed to get a grip on myself and push him away. I’m not that easy. Besides, I know trouble when I see it, and this guy had all the signs. No man could look this good without a fair measure of trouble to go along with him.
“You don’t act like a guy who works for God,” I pointed out, “I mean, aren’t you supposed to be pious or something? You seem completely irreverent, which doesn’t exactly convince me you’re one of the good guys.”
“I can see how you might get the wrong impression,” he said, still smiling but sounding completely unconcerned. He seemed more interested in my nibblets. “You will see the truth of what I am saying in a moment.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Do not worry, I will show you all you want to know, and probably more than you would like,” he said cryptically while his eyes were still checking out the merchandise.
“How did I get here? And why am I here, wherever here is? And who are you?” I asked again. My patience was wearing thin. It was time for some answers.
He sighed heavily, reluctant to get down to business. “You are in a universe that exists between the Heavens and Earth,” he said, eyeing me thoughtfully before continuing. “I brought you here, at God’s command, to teach you about your destiny in the war against the coming evil.”
“The coming evil? Well that’s just great,” I huffed, crossing my arms under my breasts, “I knew you were going to be trouble the minute I saw you.”
He laughed, as if I was joking or something.
“Why can’t you just deal with ‘the coming evil’ yourself? Surely you are much more capable than I am.”
He shook his head. “I cannot deal with it myself, because I am no longer bound to Earth, and I am not allowed to return there. That is why I had to bring you here.”
“So, what is this ‘coming evil’ thing, exactly?” I asked, mentally bracing myself. The answer couldn’t possibly be good.
“Demons. They will soon begin to invade your world in great numbers, hastening the End of Days. You have been chosen, along with three others, to become the living Armor of God, at war with the powers and principalities of evil.”
I’m not sure what I expected to hear, but that wasn’t it. “Can you say that again real slow, because I thought you said something about demons?”
“I will show you, and you will believe.” He seemed very confident, and he was moving closer again, crowding me. I backed up a pace. If he got inside my thinking space, I was afraid I would become a blithering idiot before I found out what the hell was going on. I tried to put some distance between us, but he just kept on. Then, he reached out, so quick I didn’t see it coming, and grabbed me firmly by the wrist.
I met his level gaze. There was no threat in it.
“I have to touch you,” he told me, “so you can see.” He said the word ‘see’ like it was more important than the usual type of seeing, as if it had a capital ‘S’. His eyes simmered with a mixture of sensuous heat and tender concern. He gently stroked my face with his fingers as he whispered some beautiful words I didn’t understand.
Abruptly my universe changed forever. My eyes flew wide. I gasped in sudden amazement at the new depth of focus my vision had achieved. Instantly, my mind was flooded with knowledge and a profound comprehension of the universes around me. I felt as if a smart bomb had gone off inside my head, overwhelming my senses with a new awareness, a drastically different perspective that exposed an entirely new angle of understanding.
I blinked hard, feeling dazed. Tiny pinpoints of light spun and swirled through space, flowing and intermingling with solid matter in a way that suggested that nothing is really solid at all, but rather concentrated masses of sub-atomic particles held together by an unseen, unknowable force. Every tiny pinpoint, at any given moment in time, intersected with an infinite number of universes, allowing for countless possible outcomes for each tiny molecule. For a moment, I felt like I understood it all, and how it worked, but then it was gone, fading away like a dream upon waking.
My eyes shifted to the dark haired man, brilliantly glowing with a light that seemed to radiate from within his own glorious body. Around his head shone a crown of swirling, sparkling gem-like lights of every color. If he was magnificent before, there were no words to describe how he looked now. He might have been arrogant, but I could see that he had earned the right. I felt humbled to be in the presence of such a great man, whoever he was. I reminded myself to ask him his name again.
I turned slowly to look at my surroundings. The garden still appeared to be the picture perfect place it had been before, still magnificent with all its colors and fragrances, but now every living thing had a hazy luminescence surrounding it, an inner light that radiated outward to form a living aura, or shield, that spoke volumes to me about the life it was encompassing. But oddly, the garden did not seem nearly as large as it had appeared before the dark haired man had touched me.
Now, a semi-translucent bubble encircled the entire area, like a protective shield. Outside the bubble, it had grown dim. I could hear waves of sound that, at first, my mind refused to comprehend. I walked closer to the boundary of the garden to look out through the fragile-looking membrane.
I gasped in horror at the sights before me. I didn’t need to be told what I was looking at. It was none other than the Pits of Hell, complete with fire and demons and the wailing souls of the damned, and our beautiful garden sat right in the middle of it.
Paralyzed, I took it all in, then looked away, covering my face with my hands, unable to deal with the horror, even for such a brief time. I saw things that nearly sent my unprepared mind into madness. Pity and compassion rose in me like a tidal wave, rolling down my cheeks in hot waves. I fell to my knees weeping. The images burned into my mind’s eye were horrible, causing me physical pain. I doubled over in anguish, making no attempt to stop the steady flow of tears. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined such a terrible place existed.
I was sickened to the very core of my soul, but I felt ashamed for looking away. I stood again, determined to bear witness to the horrors that existed just outside our paradise. Tears coursed down my face without restraint as I sobbed openly, keeping my hands over my mouth to hold the screams inside.
The shadowy interior was illuminated by fires that roared in chasms running throughout the cavern and up through the fissures permeating the cave walls. Every inch of every surface appeared to be stained with gore, fired to a shiny, dark glaze by the oven-like temperatures within the caves. Winds intermittently howled at near hurricane force, thankfully drowning out much of the piteous wailing and moaning of the humans damned to this place.
There were countless numbers of people crammed into the cavernous area, all naked and filthy. Some were close enough that I could clearly see their tormented faces, desperate for mercy that would never come. Waves of writhing bodies spanned the entire length of the multi-level cave. Hoards of demons walked among them, inflicting misery and suffering in large quantities. Others flew above, terrorizing the wretched masses, swooping down to claw and maim, or throwing explosive fireballs with devastating accuracy.
Many poor souls had been singled out for individual tortures, too repugnant to describe. I did not allow my eyes to linger there. Some were being herded along like cattle into dark tunnels that appeared to lead downward, which couldn’t be good. Others were packed tightly into cells laid into the cavern walls, with honeycomb-like chambers stacked as far and high as the eye could see. The front of the honeycombs faced the interior of the cave and the chasms of fire. The raging inferno kept the miserable unfortunates in their cells. Bars were unnecessary. My sanity couldn’t bear much more, but I couldn’t bring myself to look away.
All of a sudden, a winged demon the size of a horse hit the shield directly in front of me, tearing and slashing with clawed hands and feet in a frenzied attempt to get at me. I leapt backwards, my heart in my throat, slamming into the dark haired man, who was standing his ground. I hastily stepped behind him, and peered around his large, muscular frame to see what was happening.
"Oh, shit," I groaned, as a rush of demons came rocketing towards us, screaming in unrestrained rage. Dozens slammed into our protective bubble at once, shrieking and clawing, stretching the membrane of our shield like an overstuffed plastic garbage bag, determinedly trying to get at us, and more were coming. I clung fiercely to my fearless guide.
My terror was so strong I could taste it. The dark haired man took me under his arm. The noise grew deafening as the screeching demons redoubled their efforts to breach our safe haven. Swarms of fiery-eyed nightmares pounded and ripped at our thin protection.
Devoid of options, fear numbed my mind. Neither fight nor flight would help me here. There was nowhere to run, and the enemy was overwhelming.
I looked up at the dark haired man. His eyes filled with a hatred that turned my blood cold and made me know I never wanted to become his enemy. There was no fear in him at all. He glared his loathing at the demons for a moment longer, and then angrily he waved it all away with his hand. Just like that, it was gone. All of it. No more screeching demons, no more pitiful damned souls, no more Hell.
I let out a huge, lung deflating sigh of relief. I took a few moments to breathe deeply, trying to calm my heartbeat. The horrific scene was deeply imprinted in my mind. A multitude of confusing emotions ricocheted off the walls of my brain. I had to force myself to concentrate to slow the barrage of thoughts inundating my senses.
“That was a dirty trick. Couldn’t you have warned me about that?” I asked, allowing more than a tad of irritation into my voice.
He shrugged his impressive shoulders. “Would any words have been sufficient?”
I considered a moment. “No,” I admitted miserably. How could I argue with that? He was right about one thing, though, seeing is believing.
“I’m sorry this causes you such distress. I would spare you this if I could, but it is important for you to see beyond the veil so that you fully understand what is at stake,” he gently lifted my chin to look more directly into my face, “Because demons will soon be invading your Earth, and you are being called on to fight them.”
I jerked back from him. “Fight them? You can’t be serious.” My voice was shaky, still laced with currents of fear. “How do you fight demons from Hell?”
He smiled reassurances. “Do not worry, you will be prepared when the time comes, and you will not be alone. There will be others to help you wage this war.”
“Whoa there, big boy, let’s back up. I’m sure you’ve got the wrong gal. Doesn’t God always require a virgin or something anyway?”
His eyes sparked with amusement. “No, evidently not.”
Was that sarcasm I heard in his voice? The bastard.
“Why me? I’m nobody special, and I sin...a lot sometimes.” I was only beginning to comprehend the gravity of my situation, and I was already back peddling as fast as I could go.
“Of course, so do I.” He waved the statement away with his hands. “We are only human. It is our nature to be sinful creatures. As for ‘why you’, only God knows for sure. But evidently, He thinks you are special.” He ended with a shrug that looked very good on him.
Okay, my first line of reasoning hadn’t worked, so I tried another. “I haven’t prayed for months, not since my Dad died. I’m not even sure I believe in God anymore.”
“Yes, you do.” He said, sounding pretty sure of himself.
“I can’t do this. It’s too much. I just can’t bear it.” If all else fails, resort to whining.
“Yes, you can. I will see to it. You will be prepared. Besides, I do not think God will take no for an answer.”
“You can't possibly have the right girl,” could he?
“There has been no mistake,” he said soothingly, pulling me against him. “You have been chosen,” he whispered with a voice like velvet underwear, touching me softly, distracting me.
I needed some space to think. A guy like him could talk me into darn near anything.
“Can't you find someone else?”
“It is already too late. You will be part of the Armor of God, at war with the rulers of darkness and evil. As such, you will be given great power and responsibilities,” he said with a passion that bespoke the enormity of my situation.
“The Armor of God?” I repeated offhandedly, as my mind scurried to figure a way out of this mess. So far, I had nothing.
“Yes. And you, my beauty, are to become the Shield of Faith.” He flashed a taunting smile.
Still, nothing. He was standing too close for me to think.
“I don’t understand any of this,” I said miserably.
“You will. I still have much to show you.”
“Will it change me?”
“Oh yes, without a doubt.”
“I mean, will I have to...I don’t know...will I have to give up everything fun?”
He laughed at that. “You will not have to give up everything fun, you will still be the same sinful human. The basic traits that make you the unique individual you are already will not change. Fortunately, God knows your heart, and He is always forgiving.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. I'd make a lousy nun. I wasn't the type to follow paths that were in any way straight and narrow, and if I had to stop cursing or become celibate, I was doomed to fail miserably.
My new mentor looked at me hard, his eyes level and direct. “I must warn you, the actions taken by the Armor of God can alter or determine the course of future events, having a great impact on your world and the timing of the inevitable End of Days. You must understand, you have been given a great honor, but with it comes great responsibility.”
I met his gaze. “This is huge, isn’t it? What’s happening to me, I mean.”
“Huge is inadequate. ‘Of Biblical proportions’ is a better description.” A tender smile touched his full, sensuous lips. He ran his hands down the silken nightie covering my backside.
“Are you going to help me?” I asked softly, giving my best poor-little-ole-me look while mixing in a tad of sensual pleading. I figured it couldn’t hurt to keep on Mr. Testosterone’s good side, and I wasn’t above using my womanly wiles, within reason, to work a situation to my own advantage. After all, he was only a man, and all men responded to the same thing. So far, he hadn’t acted any different in that respect.
“I will help you, as much as I am allowed,” he said, his eyes softening at the look I was giving him. “Still, there is much more I have to show you.”
I glared my apprehension at him. "I hope it's better than the last thing you showed me."
“I will help you through this, do not be afraid.”
Easy for him to say. He was in complete control of the situation, while I, on the other hand, was totally at his mercy. Under different circumstances, that might be loads of fun, but if he kept taking me to places like Hell, he was going to ruin the mood entirely.
Hell hath no fury like a woman in cowboy boots packing lead.
If the bad guys are going to be stupid, they'd better be tough.