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       The Saint, p.27

         Part #5 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 

  “I’m sorry. I’ll go back.”

  “No, you can come in. Shut the door behind you.”

  She stepped into the room, shut the door and locked it.

  Søren started to speak as she proceeded on nervous feet from the door to his chair. She found nowhere to sit but on the floor, so she sat at his feet and found herself at home there. He laid his hand on the back of her neck and twined his fingers in her hair. His fingertips traced circles on the nape of her neck. For a long time she did nothing but rest her head on his knee. She could live at his feet. She could die at his feet. If she’d had more courage, she would have told him that.

  Eleanor looked up at him. He raised an arm and crooked a finger at her. She rose off the floor and sank into his lap, into his arms. His mouth found hers and in the dark and the moonlight they kissed for the first time.

  The kiss surrounded her like air, held her up like water, supported her like the earth and burned her like fire. She’d read about passion, about hunger, about desire, and had felt them herself. But never had she tasted them in her own mouth.

  Søren slid a hand under the back of her shirt and caressed her lower back as he feasted on her mouth. She relaxed into his arms, surrendering herself to him and the kiss. He wore his suit pants and a white shirt unbuttoned at the neck and Eleanor could finally touch his neck that forever seemed to be covered by his Roman collar. She pressed her fingers into his throat, felt his pulse beating against her hand, hard but steady.

  He pulled away and they gazed at each other.

  “You can say it now,” she said, her voice low and reverent.

  “I love you, Little One.”

  She relaxed into his arms and closed her eyes. He held her close, held her tight. She could have died in that moment and regretted nothing.

  “What now?” she asked.

  “There are things you need to know.”

  “Are you going to tell me?”

  Søren laid a hand on her knee and slid it up her leg, stopping only when he encountered her hip.

  “Eleanor, you have to understand that what I need to tell you will change everything. This is not some sort of melodramatic exaggeration on my part. It will change how you see me, perhaps even how you see the world. Once you learn the truth it can’t be unlearned, can’t be unheard. Please do not make this decision lightly.”

  Eleanor raised her hand to Søren’s face and touched his lips. The kiss had torn down whatever was left of the wall he’d tried to build up between them. From his lips she moved her hand to his cheek dusted with the slightest stubble, to his forehead, where she ran her thumb softly over the tips of his eyelashes. She lowered her hand and spoke two words—not a question but a command.

  “Tell me.”

  21

  Eleanor

  ELEANOR WAITED BUT SØREN DIDN’T SPEAK. NOT AT first. He stared out the window into the moonlight as if trying to find comfort in that white light.

  “You asked me questions,” he finally said. “I’ll answer them now.”

  “About goddamn time.”

  “Eleanor.”

  “Sorry.”

  “We’ll start at the end of your questions. Those are easier,” he said.

  “You remember all of them?”

  He nodded. “All of them.”

  She didn’t quite believe he had all her questions memorized. She didn’t even remember them all. Once again he proved himself when he raised his hand and with one finger drew a number twelve in the air.

  “Number twelve. Am I in love with you? I already answered that question tonight. If you need to hear it again, then yes, I am in love with you, Little One, and have been since the day we met.”

  “Since we met?”

  “It would almost be accurate to say I loved you before we met. But that’s another story for another night.”

  Eleanor took a few breaths.

  “I thought …” She stopped and shrugged. “I fell in love with you the second I saw you. Glad I’m not the only one.”

  “No. You’re certainly not the only one. Now question eleven—who am I? By the time I’m finished answering all these questions, you’ll know.”

  He drew a ten in the air.

  “When will I keep my end of the deal?” he said, reciting her question. “The deal that I’ll give you everything, including but not limited to sex, I assume.”

  “Sex specifically, but I’ll take what you’ve got.”

  “Not tonight,” he said. “I know it seems parochial to you, but I would prefer we wait as long as possible. There’s so much you still need to experience, so many decisions you need to make. I’ll try to make the waiting as easy as possible. But you’re not even out of high school yet. You should focus on graduating, getting into college. Once you’re on that path, we’ll talk about this again.”

  Eleanor sighed heavily. Disappointment warred with the joy of finally getting her answers.

  “Fair enough. I can’t say I want to wait. I’ve wanted to be with you from the beginning. But I’m not surprised, either. I know that it’s not easy—you’re a priest and I’m a—”

  “Constant temptation.”

  “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

  “It is. Also, there’s a very good reason for waiting. We’ll come to that with questions four and two. But now question nine, where you confess you’re a virgin and ask me if I’m, and I quote, ‘okay with that’?”

  “Are you? I mean, I still am.”

  “Yes, Little One. Your virginity is no impediment and if you’d been sexually active before we met it would also be no impediment. I feel possessive of you now, however.”

  “I don’t want to be with anyone but you.”

  “Are you certain of that?”

  “Entirely,” she said. “And maybe Sam. She is seriously …”

  “Eleanor.”

  “Sorry. Continue.”

  “Your eighth question—am I a virgin?”

  “You said you were with someone when you were a teenager so I’m guessing no,” she said, not sure how she felt about that no. She wanted one of them to have some experience, but then again, being his first would have been something special.

  “You would guess correctly. Many priests are. Most are not. We weren’t born priests, after all.”

  “How old were you your first time? Or am I not allowed to ask extra questions?”

  “I promise we’ll get to that. But now onto question seven. Why do I want you to obey me forever?” He paused and seemed to weigh his words. “Let me give you the simple answer. In your Esther story, the king tied Esther to the bed. Is that something you think you would enjoy?”

  She hoped the dim light masked her blush.

  “I think so. It seems really sexy being tied up during sex. Is that weird?”

  “Not at all. Many people, men and women, enjoy giving up control during sexual encounters and putting their bodies and even their lives in the hands of their partners. It’s called sexual submission. Others, like me, enjoy the opposite. Taking total control of someone and dominating them.”

  Eleanor shivered at Søren’s words. She didn’t expect such a personal revelation from him about his sexual desires—he wanted to take control of her? To dominate her?

  “Makes sense,” she said, trying to keep her voice neutral.

  “I enjoy your obedience to me much the same way you feel certain you would enjoy being tied up during sex.”

  “It turns you on?”

  Søren met her eyes and in them she saw the world set itself alight and burn to ashes.

  “More than you can possibly imagine.”

  Eleanor pressed her hand to his chest and felt his heart rushing under her fingers.

  “Which,” he began again after taking a ragged breath, “answers question number five—whose feet should you be sitting at? I don’t know whose feet you should sit at. But I know whose feet I want you to sit at.”

  He wasn’t hinting. She knew that. She knew he’d simply ans
wered her question. Entirely of her own volition she pulled away from him, slid to the floor and knelt at his feet. With her head on his knee and his hand in her hair, she felt what Søren must have felt the first time he put on his priest’s collar. She found herself at his feet. This was where she belonged. This was who she was. She would never look further to find herself than his feet.

  “I wish you’d let go and be with me,” she whispered against the fingers that brushed against her lips. “You wouldn’t have to worry about self-control then.”

  “Eleanor, the first night we make love will be the greatest test of my self-control.”

  She wanted to speak, to protest, but he’d said make love and the beauty of those words rendered her mute.

  “Now to question six. Why does everyone think my name is Marcus Stearns, but my Bible says Søren Magnussen? This is a complex question and it will require a long answer. Get comfortable,” he said and forced a smile.

  “I’m sitting in a bedroom at your feet. This is the most comfortable I’ve ever been in my life. I never want to leave.”

  “I never want you to. But you may change your mind after I answer the rest of your questions.”

  “Never. Trust me with the truth. Please.”

  “As you wish. This answer to the question begins before I was born. My father was Lord Marcus Stearns, Sixth Baron Stearns.”

  “The what?”

  “A baron, and a minor one at that. My father was impoverished English aristocracy. His father squandered the last of the family fortune, leaving my father with nothing but a name and title.”

  “Your dad was a baron?”

  “Madness, isn’t it? Somewhere in Northern England there’s a moldering estate called Edenfell I could claim if I desired. I have no desire.”

  “Your father’s dead. So you’re …”

  “Surrender the tiara, milady. I am a priest. That’s all I am.”

  “But you could be a baron if you wanted?”

  “My father legitimized me. I suppose I could, although I have no interest in it.”

  “So weird. Your father was a baron, and he left all that behind?”

  “He had to. You see, my father did what generations of noblemen had done when faced with poverty. He joined the army and became an officer. He quickly rose in the ranks. Intelligent, cunning, deadly … In Northern Ireland they called my father the Red Baron for all the blood he left in his wake. When he left the army, he fled England. He’d made so many enemies in the IRA he feared for his life. He came to America, ingratiated himself into New England society and married a wealthy young woman, an heir to a great fortune.”

  “I thought your mother was Danish.”

  “She is. My father’s wife was not my mother. My mother—her name is Gisela—was an eighteen-year-old Danish pianist who came to New Hampshire to attend a music conservatory on scholarship. Her scholarship covered only tuition. She needed a place to stay. She was hired as my sister’s nanny. My father’s wife nearly died giving birth to Elizabeth, and only an emergency hysterectomy saved her life. It left her barren. My father wanted a son. He got a daughter and no chance for more offspring. He was a cruel man before that incident. After, he became a monster.”

  “What did he do?”

  “He raped my mother.”

  Eleanor gasped. She pulled back and looked at Søren but found his face was blank, his eyes empty of emotion.

  “She had you.”

  “Yes. I don’t know if it was intentional, raping my mother so she could give him the son his wife couldn’t. Deliberate or not, that’s what happened. She had me and named me Søren, a family name. My father named me Marcus after himself.”

  “That’s why you hate the name Marcus?”

  “For many reasons. My mother wanted to flee, and would have, except she loved Elizabeth like her own child and couldn’t leave her with my father, couldn’t leave her unprotected. So we stayed in that house. My father pretended I didn’t exist. It was the only way to keep peace between him and his wife, jealous of the beautiful Danish girl who cared for her child. I think my father was waiting for something, waiting to see something in me. And he did see it.”

  “See what?”

  “I spoke my first words six months earlier than my sister had. I started playing piano at age two. I mastered new skills quickly. My father decided I showed enough signs of high intelligence that I deserved to be acknowledged as his son. I pleased him enough that he paid the necessary bribes, had paperwork altered. His wife became my ‘mother’ and he my father.”

  “And here I thought my parents had a rough marriage. What happened to your mom?”

  “I was shunted off to boarding school in England when I was five, and my mother summarily dismissed and returned to Denmark. We didn’t see each again, not for a long time.”

  “How long?”

  “Thirteen years.”

  Eleanor’s eyes filled with tears at the sorrow in Søren’s voice.

  “Thirteen years …”

  “School was difficult for me. I knew there was something different about me. My father had seen it. I saw it.”

  “Saw what?”

  “Like father like son, Eleanor. I was … I am a sadist. I take the greatest of pleasures in inflicting the gravest of pains.”

  He stopped speaking long enough for the words to sink into Eleanor. She felt them settling into her body, into her blood, like some sort of magic incantation meant to change her from a girl into another being. She let them change her.

  “Go on.”

  “The boys at school, I scared them. Even the simplest football game could turn bloody if I lost control. I pulled away, far into myself. I learned to keep my distance. I wanted to hurt them, but I didn’t want to hurt them. I was a wolf on a leash, a leash that I held. And one night, when I was ten, the wolf broke the leash.”

  Eleanor shivered at his words.

  “What happened?”

  Søren smiled slightly.

  “Have you read Lord of the Flies?”

  “Yeah, freshman year.”

  “That book is a fair representation of what the boys at my school were like. Simply take them off the island, put them back in school.”

  “Were you Jack?” she asked, remembering the cruelest of the boys.

  “No. Nor Ralph. I was almost Simon.”

  “Simon was the one who was murdered, right? You’re not dead.”

  “Because I fought back. I started at a new school when I was ten. Most of the student leaders of the school, the prefects, were predators—sexual predators. A cycle of abuse had started years earlier and it was forever perpetuating itself. When the boys were first-year students, they were used by the older boys. When it was their turn at the top of the hierarchy, they meted out their vengeance on the younger boys. You were predator or prey at the school. The most notorious of the prefects came after me. He didn’t live to regret that decision.”

  “Didn’t live? You mean—”

  “In the middle of the night he came to my bed in the dorm room I shared with three other boys. He pulled the sheets down and covered my mouth with his hand. Ten minutes later, his blood was staining the floor.”

  Eleanor went numb. She couldn’t even speak to ask him to stop
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