The queen, p.15
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       The Queen, p.15
 

         Part #8 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz

  “I didn’t leave you to hurt you,” she whispered.

  “But it did.”

  “I spent seven years on the receiving end of pain. I’m ready to be on the giving end.”

  “Did you have to start with me?”

  “Yes.”

  He nodded his head, and she met his eyes. The crack remained, but the wall held. For now anyway.

  Nora lowered her hand and picked up her whip.

  “Will you show me the coachman’s crack again? I think I’m going to like a shorter whip with a longer handle.”

  “If you can control a shorter whip, you can control a longer one. It’s best to learn on a shorter whip,” he said, his voice stronger than before, sturdier.

  “Then let’s get back to work.”

  They worked for an hour and at the end of the hour, Nora had learned the forward crack. He left for a moment and returned with a bundle of socks which he rolled into tight balls. First she tossed them up in the air for him and Søren knocked them out of the air—an impressive display of good aim. Then he threw them for her and she was able to hit one out of fifteen. A decent start.

  “Unfortunately,” Søren said as he gathered the socks for a second round, “there’s no chance you’ll master the whip in time for this party Kingsley’s planning. You’d have to work ten hours a day from now until then and you’d still not be as good as I am or Kingsley is.”

  Or Milady.

  Nora sighed. “Well, I’ll figure something out. Whips aren’t the only way to hurt someone. I know me. I’m creative.”

  “Yes, you are. You always have been.”

  “It’s funny you say that,” she said. “You know, that I’m creative.”

  “Why is that?”

  “I...” She hesitated for a moment. “While I was away I wrote a book.”

  “You did?”

  “I did. A whole book. A big one. Like, four hundred and fifty pages. Amazing what you can get done when you’re trapped in a convent with nothing else to do. But I didn’t just write it. I sent it to a literary agent, and she’s representing it. Me. We’re doing some final fixes on it, and then she’s going to try to sell it. Crazy, right?” She laughed nervously.

  “Eleanor, that’s wonderful.”

  “It’s just a dirty romance,” she said, shrugging.

  “So was Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”

  “I don’t know if this is quite D. H. Lawrence, but...I’m really happy with it. I keep running to the library to play with it. Gotta make it perfect. I’m going to use the first money I make to buy a laptop—a really fancy one so I don’t have to work at the library anymore.”

  “Is this why you’re working for Kingsley? For money?”

  “Money is the reason everybody works,” she said.

  “Kingsley has all the money in the world.”

  “I want my own money, my own house. Freedom. Money is freedom.”

  “I’m under a vow of poverty. Do you think I’m not free?”

  “No, you aren’t. You have people you have to answer to. If you want to buy a car, you have to ask permission. If you want to go on a trip, you have to beg the Jesuits or the diocese for time off and you have to find someone in your family to pay for you. If you hadn’t donated so much money to the Jesuits and the diocese after your father died, they would have transferred you already five times. That doesn’t seem like freedom to me.”

  “You think I should leave the priesthood?” he asked, a hint of dark mirth in his eyes.

  “We are not having this conversation again. I will walk again, and I won’t come back this time.”

  “You will walk the circumference of the entire globe and find yourself right where you started. Here,” he said, taking her into his arms.

  Søren bent his head and kissed her. She didn’t return the kiss at first. Her dignity wouldn’t allow it. But in a fight between her dignity and her desire, her desire won every time.

  Nora heard someone clear his throat.

  “Ahem. Am I interrupting the lesson?”

  They pulled away from each other and found Kingsley standing in the playroom doorway.

  “No, we’re done for the day,” Nora said.

  “Bien. And progress? It was made?”

  “I’m okay at it,” Nora said. “But it’ll take months to be as good as I need to be.”

  “We don’t have that much time,” Kingsley said.

  “Perhaps you should have thought about that before you decided to put Eleanor on display to the entire world before she was ready.” Søren scowled at Kingsley.

  “She’ll be ready one way or another. I have faith in her even if you don’t. Shall I show you out?” Kingsley asked, stepping into the room to leave the doorway empty and open. The air crackled between Kingsley and Søren, not with their old playful sexual tension but with true animosity. She’d wondered if they’d made peace with each other but clearly today was nothing but a temporary détente.

  “I know my way out.” Søren released her hand and walked toward the door. “Eleanor. I hope to see you soon. You should come back to church.”

  “I’m excommunicated.”

  “I spoke to the bishop. You’re welcome to return anytime. Always.”

  Eleanor had no words for that. She had no idea how to feel. She’d gotten used to being an outcast and sleeping in on Sundays.

  “How magnanimous,” Kingsley said, almost sneering. “A priest and a bishop got together, had tea and decided you were worthy enough to attend their worthless relic of a church on Sundays. You must be so honored they’re going to let you back into the Dirty Old Men Who Like to Fuck Little Boys and Tell Grown Women What to Do with Their Bodies Club.”

  Søren turned his attention from her to Kingsley.

  “Might I have a word with you?” Søren asked.

  “Bien sûr.”

  It happened so fast Nora could do nothing but gasp as Søren grabbed Kingsley by the neck and slammed him into the wall. With his body, Søren had Kingsley pinioned like an insect on display in a glass case. His mouth was at Kingsley’s ear, close enough to kiss him.

  “You go too far,” Søren said, biting off each word. “You make choices you later regret and then blame anyone but yourself for what you suffer at your own hand. You don’t need me to hurt you. You do that to yourself. You can blame me and you can punish me for all my crimes, real and imagined. But you leave Eleanor out of this petty plan of yours to get your revenge on me. She is my heart. If anything happens to her because of you, I will castrate you. I know how much you want children. I will take that dream from you with my bare hands and a rusty knife. You know what I’m capable of. And you know I know how, because I have done it before. My father survived the procedure. You’ll be lucky if you do.”

  “Søren, let him go,” Nora said. “He can’t breathe.”

  “He’s probably enjoying it.”

  “I’m not. Goddammit, Søren, let him go,” Nora ordered.

  Kingsley was struggling, pushing back against Søren, his feet fighting for purchase, his lungs for air.

  This wasn’t a game. This wasn’t kink. Søren could kill him any second.

  Søren held on and held on. Kingsley struggled and struggled.

  Finally, Søren let him go.

  Kingsley inhaled hugely, his hand on his neck. Nora started over to him but he raised his hand to stop her.

  “It’s fine. I deserved that.” Kingsley expelled the words between breaths.

  “No one deserves that,” Nora said, furious.

  Søren looked back at her over his shoulder.

  “No?” Søren asked, and punched Kingsley in the center of the stomach so hard Kingsley slid down the wall and to the floor.

  Søren walked out without another word.

  “King?” Nora ran to him and knelt at his side.

  “Fine,” he said, his head back, his eyes streaming with tears. “I’m fine.”

  “Are you going to tell me you deserved that, too?”

  “
I did, oui. I absolutely had that coming to me.”

  “Don’t take this personally, but I believe that,” she said. If Kingsley said he had it coming to him, then he had it coming to him. Kingsley half laughed, half grunted.

  “Did that hurt as much as it looked like it did?” she asked.

  “More. Le prêtre is in a bad mood. We’ll have to get used to it.”

  “He usually doesn’t go around choking people who piss him off.” Nora shook her head. “Or punching them. I’ve never seen him like this before.”

  Kingsley sighed.

  “I have.” He grunted again as he moved. “God, it’s like being back in high school again. If he was going to put me in the hospital, he could at least get me off first.”

  “You don’t have an erection right now, do you?”

  “Not a full one.”

  Nora groaned and leaned her forehead against Kingsley’s.

  “What are we going to do?” she asked.

  “We’ll figure something out. I know you...you’re ten times the domme Milady is.”

  “I can’t whip like she does, though.”

  “There are other ways to hurt people. As you see.” He laughed a little and tried to stand, then thought better of it and slid back to the floor.

  “Yes, there are, aren’t there?” Nora grinned.

  “That’s not a good smile.”

  “It’s the best smile, King.”

  “Why are you smiling when I’m down here dying?”

  “Because I can’t learn how to whip like she does by Midsummer. But you can teach me how to throw a punch like that, can’t you?”

  Kingsley smiled the same scary smile she wore.

  “Milady will never know what hit her.”

  15

  The Black Box

  ONE WEEK LATER, Nora experienced the particular torment of having good news and no one to tell it to. She made a phone call or two and when it was time, she borrowed Kingsley’s car and drove to the club. Since returning to the city, Nora had avoided The 8th Circle. By now everyone knew she’d left Søren but no one knew why and she didn’t want to face those questions yet, not until she had a good answer.

  Upon arriving at the club, she went to the room that would be her new dungeon. When Kingsley had told her which dungeon was to be hers in the Hall of Masters—as someone had dubbed it—she nearly killed the man.

  “You put me right across the hall from Søren?” she’d demanded.

  “I did.”

  “How much do you hate him, King? Seriously, answer me. On a scale of one to ten, how much?”

  “This isn’t about hate. I’m angry with him, yes, but it’s not hate.”

  “Then what is it?”

  “You are the former submissive of the most infamous sadist in our little community,” Kingsley said. Little? Several thousand people held keys to The 8th Circle. “People have expectations. We need to subvert those.”

  “What expectations?”

  “They expect you to go running back to him any day.”

  “They do?”

  “They’re already taking bets on when you’ll show up in his collar again. When I put you in the dungeon across from his, it’s our way of showing them we aren’t afraid of him. This is business, Mistress Nora,” he said, emphasizing her new name. “It’s not personal. It’s marketing.”

  Marketing.

  Kingsley could call it that if he wanted to, but she knew the truth. Whether he’d admit it or not, Kingsley was trying to torture Søren by putting her dungeon across from his. Kingsley had her on his side and that gave him the upper hand against his former lover. Calculating and merciless when he wanted to be, Kingsley was willing to press any advantage. Nora was his advantage. So much for being a queen. In the game between Kingsley and Søren, she was still very much a pawn.

  Nora opened the door to her dungeon and found it abuzz with workers and a decorator putting everything together for her. The front room of the two-room suite would hold a bed, a table and a sofa, plus an en suite bathroom. The back room was her actual dungeon. Kingsley had given her a twenty-five-thousand-dollar budget to work with, and she’d spent every penny of that on crops, canes, floggers, whips, clamps, sex toys, a medical bed, a St. Andrew’s Cross and the pièce de résistance...a large wooden throne perfect for bondage. The man who’d sold it to her said it came from an ancient castle at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. Probably bullshit, but it was a gorgeous monstrosity and she had to have it. It put her a tad over budget, but if Kingsley wanted her to be a queen, this queen needed a throne.

  While the workmen and the decorator put her dungeon together, Nora crossed the hall. With no one around and no one watching, she pulled a key out of her pocket and slipped it into the lock on a door, the door opposite her door.

  Søren wasn’t in his dungeon. Yet her hands shook as she turned the key and opened the door, feeling like an apostate entering a temple. She shut the door behind her, locked it and leaned back against the door.

  She took a ragged breath. The scent of winter permeated the air like the rarest, lightest perfume. With her eyes closed she did nothing but inhale again and again, drinking in the scent like a recovering alcoholic sniffing the mouth of an empty bottle of wine. She walked to the bed—an iron bed with a curved iron headboard and iron bedposts. Snow-white linens covered the bed, and she lifted his pillow to her face and breathed in his scent again. She ran her hands over the downy coverlet. Glancing around she saw nothing had been changed since she’d last set foot in here. On the wall opposite the bed stood a black St. Andrew’s Cross. An actual cross, small and carved of rough wood, hung over the door. A touch of blasphemy? No, although it might seem as such. Kingsley himself had designed this room to his exact specifications. Apart from the bed, which was a full-size, the room resembled the hermitage at their old school in Maine, the hermitage where Kingsley and Søren had carried on their secret affair under the noses of the Jesuit priests and other students who would never have dreamed that the cold, taciturn, no doubt heartless young Mister Stearns had it within him to love or be loved by anyone.

  But he did. His aloofness and reserve were his armor. She’d seen it with her own eyes—parishioners at Sacred Heart ached to be close to him. He was their priest and they adored him for his dedication to the church, his love for God and his devotion to their spiritual well-being. But although he would regularly dine in the homes of his parishioners when invited or spend hours with them when they brought their troubles to his office, he never reciprocated by inviting them to his home at the rectory or asking them for help unless it was church-related. The one secret about his personal life he’d ever let slip was the story of his marriage to a young French ballerina when he was eighteen, and that had been a calculated maneuver so that his congregation would know he wasn’t the sort of priest from whom they need hide their children.

  Here, however, in this room, all the armor came off. Here he was free. He didn’t hide his passions, his hungers. Hungers few outside these walls would understand. But she did. She understood because they were her desires, too.

  Nora wandered the room, touching this and that. A black crop. A white set of leather cuffs that matched the collar he’d given her when she was eighteen. Handcuffs. Rope cuffs. A set of scalpels of various sizes.

  On a shelf sat a black lacquer box that she feared to open for the memory she knew lurked inside it. But Nora had Pandora’s self-restraint when it came to secret boxes. She opened it. Anyone who saw the box out of context of this room and its owner would likely assume it held something like jewelry or love letters or a nice set of mah-jongg tiles. They could have guessed for hours without knowing what it actually held, which was a set of surgical steel needles, a set of needle receiving tubes, small clamps of various sizes and a collection of silver rings. Not the sort of rings for fingers, however.

 
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