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       The Saint, p.22

         Part #5 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 

  “You never had sex with her?”

  “The marriage was unconsummated.”

  “Your own wife.”

  “I barely knew her when we married. And she was the sister of my closest friend.”

  “Still, it was legal Catholic fucking. And you said she was beautiful, right?”

  “When I realized how strong her feelings were for me, I considered it. I didn’t want to, but she was my wife for better or worse. I felt duty bound to make her happy. I failed. And it’s for the best. I’m not the sort of person who can engage in sex simply to pass the time. The one person I was intimate with as a teenager loved me deeply and made sacrifices to be with me. I exact a certain toll on a person.”

  “I’m almost eighteen, Søren. You got married at eighteen. Stop acting like I’m too young for you.”

  “My reticence has little to do with your age and everything to do with me being a priest who has no desire to drag you into a relationship that will dangerously complicate your life.”

  “I want you so much.”

  “Eleanor, I could barely breathe watching you walk down the aisle today. Do you know how much it hurt knowing you will never walk down that aisle to me?”

  Tears burned her eyes.

  “It hurt me, too,” she confessed, and blinked the tears away.

  He took her chin in his hand and tilted her face up to meet his eyes. When she looked in them she saw no mercy, no compassion, no love, no kindness—only the cold, bitter truth.

  “Little One, to be with me is to hurt.”

  “To be without you would hurt more. It did hurt more. You won’t scare me off. I’m not afraid of you.”

  He released her chin and Eleanor took a deep breath. Learning the truth about Søren was like fighting the Hydra. Every question he answered spawned three more questions. The more she learned the less she understood, the harder she had to fight.

  “I’ll let you get back to your cleaning.” He stood up and Eleanor, still sitting, reached for his hand.

  “Don’t go,” she said. “Please. We don’t have to talk. Stay a while. It’s been so long and I missed you so much….”

  He threaded his fingers through her hair and she rested her head against his stomach.

  “I missed you, too. Every day. But I can’t stay, Little One.” He caressed the back of her neck. “I have company.”

  She turned her face up to him and tried to smile.

  “Hot date waiting for you?”

  “He wishes.”

  “Don’t we all?”

  “We’ll talk again soon. Once I’ve sobered up and recovered enough self-control to be alone in a room with you without thinking the things I’m thinking.”

  “Do they involve us breaking the gift table?”

  “It never stood a chance.”

  Eleanor heaved a melodramatic sigh and stood on top of a chair.

  “What are you doing, Eleanor?”

  “I wanted to look down on you. This works.” She slid her hands over his broad back and wrapped her arms around him. She rested her chin against his shoulder and closed her eyes.

  “You owe me this,” she said. “You dumped me. Now you owe me.”

  “I’ll make it up to you in time,” he promised. His arms tightened around her, tight enough she knew he meant it.

  She started to release him, but he wouldn’t let her go. Smiling, she clung to him even harder, relishing the feel of his large, strong hands on her back and his arms holding her so close to him not even God could slide between the cracks. Her body temperature spiked from the heat of him against her. A thousand dark and beautiful images flashed through her mind—him pressing her against the wall, capturing her mouth in a kiss, clothes coming off seemingly of their own will and him on top of her, inside her, claiming her as his own all night long.

  “Why are you a priest?” She dug her hands in the back of his hair. Such soft hair and pale as spun gold.

  “I love being a priest. It’s who I am. And it’s who I am because God wants me to be a priest.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “If I had any doubt in my mind, do you think you’d still be a virgin?”

  “Who said I was?”

  Søren pulled back long enough to give her a dirty look.

  “Oh, stop glaring and hug me, Blondie.”

  Laughing, he pulled her close again.

  “You promised me everything,” she whispered.

  “And I will keep my promise. But not yet.”

  “Don’t worry about it. I told you I can wait, and I’ll wait. I know this is a big deal.”

  “What you want from me, what we want from each other … it’s forbidden, Little One. If I’m caught, if we’re caught….”

  The warning tone in his voice gave her a chill.

  “How bad would it be?” she asked.

  “Best-case scenario? A transfer, therapy, public ridicule, private ridicule. Worst-case scenario? Laicization. Most people would consider me a sexual predator if you and I were found to be involved.”

  “That’s ridiculous. I’m the one trying to get you into bed. And I’m seventeen. I can donate blood and get the death penalty if I murder someone, but I’m not allowed to have sex at seventeen? Jesus, it’s my body,” she said. “Mine, not theirs. And it’s your body. Why do they get to tell us what we can do with our bodies?”

  “Eleanor, are you trying to use logic on Catholics?”

  She tried to laugh but the sound didn’t come out quite right.

  “I think someone smart once said that was a pointless strategy.” She smiled at him.

  “The whole world is a courtroom. And everyone loves to play judge, jury and executioner. A Catholic priest sexually involved with a teenage member of his congregation? I will be crucified. I’ve seen this happen over and over again. And the only people who won’t hate me will be the people who hate you instead.”

  “Is this my fault?” she asked, afraid of the answer. She had pursued him, hadn’t she?

  “No. It’s destiny. Or doom, perhaps. Hard to tell the difference sometimes.”

  “Maybe they’re the same thing.”

  “Perhaps they are.” He looked into her eyes and she saw her doom and destiny waiting in them. One kiss. Surely one kiss wouldn’t kill them. She leaned in. She knew Søren would let her kiss him. She knew he would kiss her back.

  But then she heard something. Whistling. Somewhere in the building someone whistled. She’d heard the song before but couldn’t name it or place it. Hurriedly she pulled back from the embrace and put two feet between her and Søren.

  “I’m changing my answer,” Søren said. “It’s his fault.”

  “Who is that?” she whispered in a panic. Søren did something she’d never dreamed she’d see him do. He rolled his eyes.

  “‘La Marseillaise’—the French national anthem.”

  “Who’s in the building?”

  Søren sighed heavily and rubbed his forehead.

  “I suppose tonight’s as good a night as any,” Søren said.

  “For what?”

  “For you to meet the in-law.”

  18

  Eleanor

  THE WHISTLING SOUND GREW CLOSER. SØREN TOOK her hand in his.

  “Eleanor, allow me to apologize in advance.”

  “Apologize? For what?”

  “For him.”

  “Who? Moi?” asked the man who strolled through the nearest door and right up to them. “I hope I’m interrupting something.”

  Eleanor’s eyes widened at the sight of the man.

  “I love that reaction.” He pointed at Eleanor’s face. “That is the ‘you didn’t tell me how pretty he was’ look, oui?”

  “Didn’t I almost punch you on a set of stairs once?” she asked him.

  “You broke into my house. What do you have to say for yourself?”

  “You have Eddie Vedder hair,” Eleanor said, which was the only thing she had to say for herself. She was still trying to recover from
the shock of the man. He wore the most amazing suit she’d ever seen in her life. Black trousers, riding boots, long black jacket, black-and-silver embroidered vest. He had dark shoulder-length hair and a face that belonged on a male model. And to make matters even worse, he was French. So this was the brother-in-law? The best friend? The Kingsley?

  He picked up her hand as if to kiss the back of it, but at the last second he raised her fingertips to his nose and sniffed them. She pulled her hand back.

  “So this is elle?”

  “This is she. Eleanor, this is Kingsley. Kingsley, Eleanor. Now please go back to the rectory, Kingsley, before Eleanor starts liking you.”

  “Liking me more than you, you mean. Too late. Isn’t it?”

  “You are seriously French,” she said.

  “Would you like to see how French I am?” He imposed himself between her and Søren and stared down at her with the most seductive expression she’d ever seen on the face of a man with all his clothes on.

  “Kingsley, please,” Søren said.

  “I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to her.”

  Kingsley stepped even closer.

  “How old are you?” he asked her.

  “Seventeen. How old are you?”

  “Thirty. Is your hymen intact?”

  Eleanor stood up straighter.

  “Is your brain intact?”

  “I ask for a reason.” He shook his finger in her face to hush her. “I fucked a virgin last week. I didn’t mean to.”

  “What happened? You trip and fall into her hymen?”

  “You jest, but do you know how hard it is to get blood off raw silk upholstery?” Kingsley asked, sounding positively perturbed. “She could have told me before I fucked her. I would have put a towel down first. But c’est la guerre. What’s the etiquette for accidentally fucking a virgin? Should I send flowers? If I fucked you and broke your hymen, what would you want from me after?”

  “Hair of the dog that bit me?” Eleanor suggested her father’s favorite hangover cure. “Fuck me again?”

  Kingsley looked her up and down. He seemed to like what he saw.

  “Would you like to play a round of Justine and the naughty monk with me?”

  “Never heard of it.”

  “I swear I will have you arrested,” Søren said to Kingsley. He sounded stern but Eleanor saw amusement in his eyes.

  “Have you ever read Justine by Le Marquis de Sade? Wonderful book. Little twelve-year-old Justine runs away to a monastery and the monks rape her and subject her to orgies and beatings over and over again. So that’s how you play the game. Shall we?”

  “How do we know who wins?”

  “Whoever has lost the least blood by the end of the game wins.”

  “Sounds fun,” Eleanor said. “I’ll play the monk. You play Justine.”

  “Why, Kingsley,” Søren said in a taunting tone, “it’s like she knows you already.”

  Kingsley only gazed at her a moment and she sensed him taking stock of her. The smile left his face; the amusement disappeared from his eyes. In a warning tone, the man addressed Søren.

  “You are asking for so much trouble with this one, mon ami.”

  “He didn’t ask for trouble,” Eleanor interjected. “I offered.”

  Kingsley nodded his approval.

  “You weren’t exaggerating,” he said to Søren.

  Søren put his mouth near Kingsley’s ear.

  “I told you so,” Søren said in a stage whisper.

  “Can I have her?” Kingsley asked. Søren replied something in French, something that made Kingsley grin even more broadly.

  “What did he say?” she asked Kingsley.

  “He said, ‘wait your turn.’”

  She glared at Søren, who only shrugged as if Kingsley had lied to her. She knew he hadn’t.

  “She doesn’t like my translation.”

  “She should learn French,” Søren said. Kingsley nodded his agreement.

  “Hello!” Eleanor waved her hands. “I’m still here. I can hear you both talking about me. And you, I can see you giggling.” She stabbed the center of Søren’s chest with her finger.

  He gave her an affronted look.

  “Priests don’t giggle.”

  “What are you looking at?” she demanded of Kingsley, who seemed to be undressing her with his eyes.

  “She’s spirited, this one,” Kingsley said to Søren.

  “Unholy spirited,” Søren agreed.

  Kingsley turned his attention back to her.

  “Why do you have your clothes on?”

  “Was I supposed to take them off?”

  “I’ve never heard a stupider question in my life,” he said with a very French, very disgusted sigh. “You weren’t supposed to have them on to start with.”

  “I get it,” Eleanor said to Kingsley. “I do. You’re Prince Charming if Prince Charming wasn’t charming.”

  “And wasn’t a prince but a king.” Kingsley raked her body with his eyes. She might have been embarrassed by his nakedly hungry stare but he had a French accent, Eddie Vedder hair and the power to annoy Søren. The man got a free pass to make a pass.

  “I could lose my watch inside you,” Kingsley finally said to her.

  “And good night.” Søren grabbed the Frenchman by the back of the neck. Kingsley shivered as if the viselike grip Søren put on him seemed to have the opposite effect of the one Søren intended. “I can’t take you anywhere. Go back to the rectory. I will be there soon.”

  “I have to go?”

  “He really doesn’t,” Eleanor said.

  “He really does.” Søren released Kingsley, who gave her an apologetic smile.

  “Je suis désolé, ma belle. I must leave you. I will be inside the priest’s rectory tonight if you need me, want me or desire me. You know where to find me.”

  “In his rectory.”

  “Firmly ensconced. If I’m not there, I’ll be inside a bottle of Syrah. I’m getting the priest very drunk tonight.”

  “I think he’s already there,” Eleanor said. She’d never seen Søren so playful before. They should get him drunk more often.

  “Merely warming up.” Kingsley took her hand, and this time he kissed the back of it instead of sniffing her fingertips. “Rest assured I leave you entirely against my will and with the firmest of convictions that we shall meet again someday.”

  “Nice to meet you,” she said, fairly certain that nice was the least correct word she could have used in that sentence.

 
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