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       The Queen, p.21

         Part #8 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz

  intercourse—including a threshing-floor blow job—between a young widow and an older man had convinced the administration she was, in fact, sexually active herself. As she was an underage, unmarried Catholic high school student who’d signed the school’s honor code, this didn’t go over well. When they’d threatened to call her mother, Eleanor had begged them to instead call her priest.

  She’d never heard a more welcome sound in her life than the roar of a Ducati motorcycle engine outside her school principal’s office.

  “What did she do this time?” Søren asked as he stepped into the office.

  “I—” Eleanor began, but it was as far as she got.

  “Not you,” Søren said. “Anyone but Eleanor, please.”

  The principal explained the situation—the graphic story, the sexual content, the specificity of intimate detail. Søren had taken the story from the principal and sat in a chair reading it while everyone watched and waited for his verdict. Apart from her, Søren was the youngest person in the room by twenty years at least and yet he had an aura of authority about him. Everyone deferred to him. If he couldn’t get her out of this, no one could.

  “You didn’t finish the story, Eleanor,” he said at last.

  “It’s a good thing she didn’t,” Father Jones said. “It’s bad enough as it is.”

  “Bad? I thought it was quite good.”

  “Good?” Father Jones nearly choked on the word. “It’s sexually explicit. It’s a Bible assignment, not Penthouse Letters.”

  “Did you tell students they couldn’t put sexual content into their stories?” Søren had asked them.

  “It’s not the content so much as the implication,” the guidance counselor said in her most placating voice. “No one could write sex that descriptively if they weren’t having it. Miss Schreiber, like all students, signed an honor code. Sex outside of marriage is a violation of the code.”

  “I suppose Ruth wouldn’t be welcome at this school, then. Neither would Queen Esther, Tamar or King David.”

  “Father Stearns,” Mrs. Oates, the guidance counselor, said, “we all know that Eleanor’s father died recently, and we were disturbed by certain elements in the story. Ruth referring to Boaz as her father during intercourse, for one.”

  Eleanor started to open her mouth to defend herself. Søren raised his hand to silence her.

  “I believe you’re referring to the dialogue exchange wherein Boaz says, ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ and Ruth responds, ‘You are, Bobo’?”

  “Well...yes,” Mrs. Oates said, blushing.

  Søren turned to Eleanor. “Sorry,” she mouthed at him and resisted the urge to call him “Bobo.” Søren sighed, and looked at her guidance counselor.

  “‘Who’s your Daddy?’” Søren repeated. “That is Eleanor’s supposed cry for help?”

  The guidance counselor attempted an answer but the principal interrupted.

  “Writing such a story seems like odd behavior for a young woman whose father was killed last week. Our condolences, of course, but you understand our concern?”

  “My father died recently, and given the chance I might have danced an Irish jig on his grave so I can hardly judge Eleanor for being relieved her criminal of a father has gone to whatever circle of hell is reserved for men who force their children to commit felonies for them. And if Eleanor were sexually abused by her father in any way, she would have told me. Correct, Eleanor?”

  “Correct. He never touched me like that. I’d still be puking if he had.”

  “There we have it,” Søren said. “Are we done?”

  “Not quite,” the principal said. “We still—”

  “May I see the other stories the students wrote?”

  Father Jones and the principal looked at each other before passing Søren a sheaf of papers. For the next hour, Søren read all twenty-one stories while everyone waited. Eleanor took her homework out and pretended to do something to it. On either side of him, Søren made two piles. When he finished reading them he held up the pile on the left.

  “You have a problem,” Søren said.

  “What is that?” the principal asked.

  “You have nine students in your AP English class who are murderers.”


  “Nine stories written by Eleanor’s classmates contain explicit depictions of killing human beings—three crucifixions, two decapitations and various and sundry other brutal deaths. You should call the police right now and have those students arrested.”

  Søren tossed the stories onto the principal’s desk.

  Silence reigned in the room until Father Jones spoke up.

  “Father Stearns, with all due respect, there’s a difference between those stories and Miss Schreiber’s.”

  “There is, yes,” Søren said. “Those stories are written by boys. Interesting that it’s a female student being singled out for writing something inappropriate when none of the male students were.”

  “Boys like wars and violence and that sort of thing,” the principal said. “It’s natural.”

  “It’s also natural for teenagers to be curious about sex. Also, consensual sex between two adults—which Ruth and Boaz were—isn’t illegal,” Søren said. “Killing someone is, however. Now you either give Eleanor a passing grade for her story and let her return to class, or you call the police and have those nine male students arrested.”

  “We are not having students arrested,” her principal said. “The boys wrote Bible stories—”

  “As did Eleanor.”

  “If she’s having sex, which she clearly is if she’s writing this sort of material, that’s an honor code violation—”

  “Forgive me for speaking bluntly,” Søren said. “I was married and widowed before I joined the Jesuits. I’m well aware of the mechanics of sexual intercourse, and the act that Eleanor describes in her story could only be accomplished if Ruth were double-jointed and Boaz’s ‘foot’ thirteen to fifteen inches long. Writing about sex doesn’t necessarily mean one is having it.”

  “Perhaps,” the guidance counselor said gently, “if she would submit to a psychological and medical examination, then—”

  Søren stood up. She’d often seen him using his height to his advantage and today he took full advantage of all six foot four inches of him.

  “If anyone lays a hand on Eleanor or any other underage member of my congregation without my permission, you will have to answer to me and the American Civil Liberties Union.” Søren looked around the room defying anyone to contradict him. No one spoke. “Eleanor, you can go back to class. Later you and I will have a talk about what sort of writing is and is not appropriate for school assignments. Yes?”

  “Yes, Father Stearns.” Since no one stopped her, she left the office. She didn’t go back to class, however, but waited in the hall. Five minutes later Søren walked out of the principal’s office with a look in his eyes that could be described as murderous.

  “They’re lucky Jesuits are pacifists,” he said as he zipped up his motorcycle jacket over his clericals. “Why aren’t you in class?”

  “I wanted to thank you,” she said, walking beside him to the glass double doors at the front of the school.

  “You can thank me by graduating before we have to go through this nonsense again.”

  She laughed. “Four more months. Thanks for hauling my ass out of the fire again.”

  “Your ass is my ass. If it’s going to get burned, I’ll do the burning.”

  “Aww... You say the sweetest things, Blondie,” she said, standing by the double doors. “You know, if they’d made me take my clothes off for a doctor, they’d see handprint bruises on my thighs left by a certain big blond sadist we both know and love.”

  “The bruises haven’t faded yet?” Søren didn’t seem pleased to hear that.

  “Not completely. They’re in the gross and yellow stage.”

  Søren paused by the front door. “Are you still comfortable with what happened that night?”

>   “Comfortable with what? That I fooled around with my priest at his father’s funeral a week and a half ago?”

  “I admit I never intended us to be that intimate that soon. I don’t regret it. But I’m still reeling a bit.” It was a humble confession and it touched her heart to hear he was as affected by what happened as she was. Perhaps even more so.

  “I know it’s been a long time since you’ve been with know, like that.”

  “A very long time,” he said quietly.

  “I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to do it again. I mean, the fooling around part. Not the funeral part.”

  Søren smiled at her. “Later. After you graduate.”

  “Then what?”

  Søren reached into his pocket and pulled out something that looked like part of a weed.

  “I intended to give you this later.”

  “What is it?” She looked at the pale brown plant in her hand.

  “The head of a stalk of wheat,” he said with a wink. “When you’re ready, we can revisit my threshing floor.”

  Then he got on his Ducati and turned the key.

  “Finish your Ruth and Boaz story,” he ordered. “And it might be sooner rather than later.”

  Then he rode away, taking her heart with him.

  * * *

  With shaking hands Nora untied the cord on the box and ripped off the plain brown paper.

  “Goddammit, Søren...”

  It was a laptop. Of course it was. Of course he’d found a way to give her the thing she most needed, her heart’s desire. But how? How had he paid for this? What had he done? Did he borrow money from his sister Claire? Or Kingsley? Did he sell some valuable Stearns family antique? Did the priest sell his fucking plasma? Nobody had that much plasma.


  Nora turned and found Kingsley standing in her dungeon doorway. He looked resplendent tonight in Regency-era British military dress with obscenely tight white trousers and his saddle-brown Hessian boots. She appreciated how much it must have hurt the Frenchman to dress in British regimentals, but the red of his coat matched the red of her corset and boots. He looked ready to do battle. She didn’t. She felt ready to surrender right into Søren’s arms.

  “King...” She couldn’t breathe. She felt too much.

  “Shall we?” he asked.

  Nora looked down at the box in her hands. She nodded and set it back on the bed. Later she’d return for it. He held out his arm, and she took it.

  No going back now.

  “Are you ready?” Kingsley asked as they took the back way upstairs to the elevator.

  “No,” she said.

  Kingsley looked at her with some concern. “You have five minutes to get ready.”

  “I...” She looked around and pulled Kingsley between the coat-check booth in the main hallway and the elevator. She pressed her head to the wall and breathed through her hands.

  “What is it?”

  “Kingsley, Søren gave me a laptop. A really expensive one. He took a vow of poverty. He has no money. How did he pay for it?”

  “He didn’t get it from me,” Kingsley said with a shrug. “I suppose he could have asked his sister. Claire could have paid for it.”

  “Actually, I paid for it.”

  Nora whirled around and saw Milady standing by the elevator wearing an elegant Regency-style dress of pure white silk. It almost looked like a wedding dress. But Nora paid no attention to her clothes, her perfectly coiffed thick black hair, her perfect pouty lips or her long eyelashes. No, Nora’s eyes focused on the locket around Milady’s neck. A glass memento mori locket, it was designed to hold a lock of hair from someone beloved now dead. But that’s not what this locket held. Nora could see right into it.

  Inside was a lock of golden-blond hair.

  Søren’s hair.

  “Oh, you bitch...” Nora said with a smile. “He wouldn’t.”

  “He did.”

  “Not a chance in hell.”

  “I told you everyone was for sale.”

  Milady laughed. No, it wasn’t a laugh. It was a giggle, cute and girlish. It enraged Nora. She charged forward and Kingsley grabbed her arm, stopping her.

  “Not here,” he said into her ear. “Save it for the game.”

  “It’s not a game anymore,” Nora said, glaring into Milady’s soul. That bitch had touched Søren. Even if all she’d done was take a pair of scissors to his hair, she was still a dead woman. She should have stabbed herself in the heart with those scissors she’d used on Søren’s hair. It would have saved Nora the trouble of doing it for her.

  “You don’t get to touch my priest,” Nora said to Milady.

  “It’s too late for that. You fucked with me and my favorite toy. I fucked with you and your favorite toy. But if it’s any consolation I consider us even now. Do you?”


  “Play on, then.”

  Milady, still giggling, stepped into the elevator. When the doors closed behind her, Nora looked at Kingsley.

  “He wouldn’t...” She looked at Kingsley. “No way would he submit to that woman or any woman or anyone on earth just for money.”

  “You really think he did it for money?” Kingsley asked, arching his eyebrow, a look that said, You know better than that.

  Nora leaned against the wall, resting her head on the fading red wallpaper. Why...why would Søren do this to her? Why would he give her a gift that cost more to her than buying it herself would have?

  “Fucking sadist...” She exhaled the words.

  “Mistress?” Kingsley said.

  Nora stood up straight and took a calming breath. Søren let Milady touch him. Fine. Very well. He had his reasons. Hopefully one of his reasons was that he wanted to inspire a murderous rage in her, which she would then take out on Milady. If so, it had worked.

  Like a fucking charm.

  “Okay, King,” she said. “Now I’m ready.”

  When the one elevator that led down to the pit returned to the main floor, Nora was ready. It was the three of them all alone now—Kingsley, Nora and Nora’s wild beating heart. Adrenaline surged through her body, uncontrolled. The nervousness might work in her favor. She’d heard of people who’d torn doors off burning cars and lifted fallen walls off people when hit with an adrenaline rush. She had no interest in tearing off doors or lifting walls. But she wouldn’t mind tearing off Milady’s head and throwing it against a wall. Such a thought gave her a grin, a wicked, wonderful grin.

  The elevator began its descent. Then the doors opened. The sound of the crowd hit her like a storm wind. She straightened her shoulders, raised her chin, twirled her riding crop.

  “She touched Søren.”

  “It seems to be the case,” Kingsley said. “And what will you do about it, Your Majesty?”

  Nora looked at Kingsley.

  “Off with her head.”


  The Red Queen

  KINGSLEY STEPPED OUT into the darkness and the cacophony first. He reached back for her but she didn’t take his hand. On her own, without his help and without fear, she stepped across the threshold and stood at his side. Music roared from mountain-size speakers. She recognized the song. It was one of Kingsley’s favorites, a perfect score to accompany a seduction, a beating, a sin, a confession and absolution in bed.

  Time slowed down as they descended the stairs into the pit below. Between flashes of blue and red she could see Kingsley’s pupils dilating as they adjusted to the low light. His lips parted slightly and she could see his chest rise with a breath. His face, handsome, imposing, unsmiling, wore the expression of a veteran soldier going into battle. Alert and unafraid.

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