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       The Saint, p.24

         Part #5 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 

  He make a tick mark on the page.

  “Forty-four. I hate you. Why the fuck did you turn the heat up to ninety?”

  “You stole five cars. Instead of going into prison or juvenile detention, you endured nothing more than volunteer work. Now that you are paying back your legal fees, which were not inconsiderable, perhaps you need to suffer more in your service. It’s good for the soul.”

  “Suffering is good for the soul? You’re sitting in your cute little office drinking your gross-ass tea that smells like bacon—”

  “It’s Lapsang souchong.”

  “It’s disgusting. You’re drinking disgusting tea and writing homilies in your room-temperature office while I’m dying in there. I don’t see you suffering.”

  “I have suffered. My suffering has ended.”

  “Did you find Jesus?”

  “No, I found you.” Søren closed his file folder and slipped it back into the drawer. He sipped his tea again, sat the cup down and returned to his work.

  Eleanor pressed her hand into her fluttering stomach.

  “How would you feel if I stood on top of your desk and screamed my head off?” she asked.

  “To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised you haven’t done it already.”

  To be perfectly honest, it surprised her, too.

  “Now that I’ve suffered, can I turn the heat back down to a low boil? More first circle of hell than eighth circle?”

  “If you insist. But while cleaning the pews, I want you to think about your sins.”

  “I will. Especially the ones I plan on committing with you someday.”

  “Good girl.”

  Eleanor started to turn around, but Søren said her name.

  “Yes, your blondness. What?”

  “Did you mail off all your applications?”

  “I did as ordered, Your Majesty.”

  “Are you going to tell me where you applied?”

  “University of None Ya. University of Mind Your Own. University of Not-tellin’. Big Secret College. And St. Stay-out-of-it Technical College.”

  “Interesting choices.”

  “The University of Not-tellin’ is my safety school.”

  “Is there any particular reason you’re being so secretive?”

  “You got me out of going to prison. You have secret ninjas everywhere who get stuff done for you. I don’t want you making phone calls on my behalf trying to pull strings for me.”

  “I would never do such a thing.”

  “Liar.”

  Eleanor loitered in his doorway for the sole purpose of cooling off in the draft. That and staring at Søren, who’d actually stepped foot into Sacred Heart tonight without his collar on. Dual purpose, then.

  “Eleanor?”

  “What?”

  “You’re staring at me.”

  “You’re gorgeous. Of course I’m staring. How’s the dissertation going?”

  “Can’t we discuss more pleasant topics? Like my summers spent in leper colonies?”

  “Big baby.”

  “Go back to work.”

  “Yes, Father Stearns.”

  “I’d prefer you didn’t call me that,” he said.

  “How about Mother Stearns?”

  “How about sir?”

  He raised an eyebrow at her. Eleanor’s stomach tightened in a surprisingly pleasant way.

  “Yes, sir,” she whispered.

  Søren gave her a look that set her fingers to tingling.

  “Good girl. Now shoo. I don’t have time for distractions today—even pleasant ones.”

  She left him in his office and headed toward the sanctuary. A shadow flickered at the end of the hallway, a shadow in the shape of a person. Had someone been here the whole time listening to her and Søren? In a panic Eleanor raced through the conversation in her mind. Did they say anything that could get them into trouble? Søren flirtatiously complimented her on her kneepads. That wasn’t good but could be explained away as sarcasm. She told him his Lapsang souchong was disgusting, which it was. No one could argue with that. Oh, fuck. She’d asked him why he no longer suffered. Because I found you….

  Fuck.

  Eleanor half walked, half ran down the hall toward the shadow. But when she reached the end, she saw no one and nothing. Being in love with a priest had made her paranoid. Who would give a damn about her enough to follow her around anyway? No one.

  She thought about telling Søren she’d seen a shadow if only for the excuse to talk to him again. Through his office door, she heard his phone ring, heard him answer it. He spoke too quietly for her to make out the words, however, so she returned to the sanctuary.

  Eleanor opened the doors and put the stoppers down in the hope that cooler air would start to circulate.

  She found her bucket again and got on her knees as she dipped the rag into the pine-scented water. She’d only done about two square feet of cleaning when she heard footsteps echoing off the floor. Søren had apparently not tortured her enough for the day. Fine. Round two.

  “If you come in here I’m going to make you clean,” she said, glaring at him. She expected a smile or a laugh but no. Søren wore the strangest expression on his face.

  He sat down in the pew behind her and gazed upon the crucifix behind the altar.

  “Søren?” Eleanor knelt backward on the pew in front of him. “What’s wrong?”

  “Nothing’s wrong. My father is dead.”

  Eleanor’s hands went numb.

  “Oh, my God. What happened?”

  Søren shook his head. “I don’t know. My sister Elizabeth is coming here tonight to talk.”

  “Are you okay?” She wanted to take his hand but although he sat only inches from her, he seemed too far away to reach.

  “I am …” He paused for a long time. “I am ashamed of how happy I am that man is dead.”

  Eleanor didn’t know what to say so she said the only thing she hadn’t said to him yet.

  “I love you.”

  Søren tore his gaze from the crucifix to her.

  “Thank you,” he said. “I needed to hear that.”

  Thank you? Better than “no, you don’t,” but not quite as good as “I love you, too.” Still, she was glad she’d said something right for once.

  “There is a visitation Saturday, the funeral on Sunday. You’ll come with me, won’t you?”

  “I’ll come with you?” she repeated, not sure she’d heard him correctly.

  “Can you? Please?”

  Søren sounded so humble with his quiet “please” that she would have handed him her own heart if he’d asked for it.

  “I will. Yes. Definitely.”

  “Good. We’ll leave tomorrow evening once you’re out of school. Kingsley can send a car. Pack for two nights.”

  “Where are we going?”

  “New Hampshire, to my father’s house.”

  “That’s not going to seem sort of suspicious? A priest bringing a date to the funeral?”

  “My youngest sister is about your age. I’m sure she’ll come. You can stay with her.”

  “Sure. Of course.” Eleanor’s head spun. She and Søren were going away to New Hampshire for the entire weekend. He wanted her to meet his little sister and attend his father’s funeral with him. When she woke up this morning she hadn’t suspected her entire life would change by the end of the day. Apparently God didn’t like to give out any warnings on that sort of thing.

  “You can go home. You need to pack. And I need to make some phone calls.”

  “Can I do anything for you? Help with anything?”

  “You help me by existing. And I promise, I’m fine. In some shock, but I assure you, this is good news.”

  If anyone else had heard him call his father’s death “good news” they might have balked. But Eleanor wouldn’t mind if her own father fell off the face of the earth. She could hardly blame Søren.

  “So what do we do?”

  “Come by the rectory tomorrow. We’ll leave from
there.”

  “You mean I’m allowed in the rectory tomorrow?”

  “Eleanor, the reason I made you stay away from me for so long is so you could grow up and be ready for the things I need to tell you. Are you ready now?”

  “I’ve been ready for you since the day we met.”

  Søren took her hand in his and pressed the back of it first to his heart and then to his naked throat, before kissing her knuckles.

  A man had died.

  She smiled all the way home.

  Eleanor packed that night as ordered. She’d been to a few funerals in her day. Grandparents, one random great-uncle she didn’t remember. She’d gone with Jordan to her aunt’s funeral. But this was different. She had no right, no business going to Søren’s father’s funeral. She couldn’t begin to think of a single rational way to explain her presence at her priest’s dad’s house. She would have to get creative.

  First of all, she had to think of a way to explain her absence to her mother. Easy enough. One phone call to her friend Jordan took care of it. She told her mother she’d be accompanying Jordan on her college visits this weekend. Done.

  As for everyone else? She’d have to wing it.

  School dragged by the next day. She couldn’t think about anything but the prospect of being in a car for four straight hours with Søren. In a car for four straight hours? Eleanor stopped drinking water at noon. Last thing she wanted to do was interrupt Søren to tell him she had to pee.

  She stopped at her house after school and picked up her duffel bag. She left her mother a note reminding her she’d be gone all weekend. Hopefully she’d be able to use a phone at the house in New Hampshire to call her mother on Saturday night. As long as she checked in once during the weekend, her mother wouldn’t get suspicious. Then again, it wasn’t like her mother gave a damn what she did anymore.

  As she neared the church Eleanor realized it might raise a few eyebrows if someone saw her trekking over to the rectory, overnight bag slung across her back. She walked around the block and found a path to the rectory through a back driveway. She’d have to remember this trick. If life proceeded as she wanted it to, this wouldn’t be her last time sneaking over to Søren’s.

  Outside the house she paused. To knock or not to knock … While she debated those choices, she studied the house. She’d always loved the rectory at Sacred Heart. A beautiful Gothic cottage, the rectory had been around even longer than the church. She’d heard the church had practically arm-wrestled with the original owners to get the land and the house. She didn’t blame them. As a little girl she’d thought of the house as magical, enchanted. It looked like the houses in her fairy-tale books—the steeply pitched roof, the gable dormer windows, the stone chimney, the cobblestone path, the trees that encircled it, hiding it from prying eyes.

  It still enchanted her now, although for different reasons. No longer did she see the two-story cottage as something from a fairy tale. It had taken on much more potent significance. Søren lived in this house. He ate here, drank here, dressed here, bathed here and slept here. Someday, she knew, she would sleep here, too.

  She knocked on the door.

  Søren opened it without a word. He didn’t speak to her, because he had a phone held to his ear.

  “Leaving now,” he said into the phone. “It’s all saber rattling. They’re trying to scare you. I know this trick. Don’t fall for it.”

  A pause followed and in that pause Søren took her duffel bag off her shoulder and sat it on the kitchen table. She took comfort in how casually he’d welcomed her into his home, acting as if she’d been here a thousand times before. She checked out the kitchen while she waited for him to get off the phone. Pretty kitchen, clean and quaint and homey, like something out of a movie that takes place in turn-of-the-century New England. They would fuck in this kitchen someday. On that very table.

  “Have you spoken to Claire?” he asked the person on the other end. Another pause, and then … “You know more about teenage girls than I do,” he said and winked at Eleanor, who had to cover her mouth not to laugh. “It’s fine. I’ll talk to her. You have enough on your mind.”

  The hint of a smile faded from his face.

  “Take heart,” Søren said. “We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

  Søren hung up the phone.

  “Girlfriend?” she asked.

  “That was my sister Elizabeth. Half sister. You’ll meet her at some point this weekend.”

  “How many brothers and sisters do you have? And why are you dressed like that?”

  “I have three sisters,” he said, sitting on the kitchen table. “And this is a suit. Do you not approve?”

  “You look amazing. I didn’t expect you in, like, a business suit.” She grabbed the lapels of his jacket as she pretended to examine his neck. “No collar. Weird. No tie. Even weirder.”

  “I have the tie. I haven’t put it on yet.”

  “Leave it off. You look good in normal-person clothes.”

  “Thank you. I am attempting to stay incognito this weekend. A priest at a funeral and everyone wants to talk about God and the afterlife with you.”

  “Can’t imagine why they’d think a priest would want to talk about God.”

  “Ridiculous, isn’t it?” He grinned at her. “Car’s on the way. Would you like to see the house?”

  “No.”

  “No?”

  “Well, yes. I do. But I don’t.”

  “Why not?”

  “I’m not ready to know that my fantasy of your bedroom doesn’t match the reality. I’m guessing there’s no hot tub in there.”

  She expected Søren to laugh but instead he took her by the wrist and pulled her closer to him. He put his hands on each side of her neck and caressed her jawline with his thumbs.

  “Little One, there is something you’ll have to understand. Your fantasies about us and the reality will not match.”

  She raised her chin.

  “You don’t know what I fantasize about. How do you know?”

  He dropped a kiss on her forehead and she closed her eyes, relishing the touch of his lips on her skin.

  “A fair point,” he said, brushing her hair off her shoulder. Outside the house she heard an engine. “Our chariot awaits us.”

  Eleanor heard a car door open and close. Søren walked into the next room and came back with a small suitcase and a black garment bag over his shoulder. Meanwhile she had an army green duffel bag with a large yellow pin on it that read Jesus Loves You. Everyone Else Thinks You’re an Asshole.

  Søren started to pick up her duffel bag, but she took it from him. He had enough burdens to bear this weekend. She could carry her own damn luggage.

  Outside in the back of the rectory sat a black BMW M3.

  “Nice,” she said, running her fingers over the still warm hood. A woman got out of the driver’s seat and shut the door behind her.

  “Sam?” Søren asked, raising an eyebrow at the driver—an incredibly beautiful woman with a shaggy pixie cut wearing a thick
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