The queen, p.27
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       The Queen, p.27

         Part #8 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
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  his baby niece Gitte in his arms. For hours he walked with her, trying to comfort and quiet her colicky cries. He was so patient, so endlessly patient. Nora didn’t want to have children herself and she had no regrets about that at all. But Søren never holding his son or daughter? That hurt her. That she regretted. And she hated to think about it, but Søren was fourteen years her senior and women lived longer than men. Wouldn’t it be something to have part of Søren live on after he was gone?

  “Breaks my heart to know he’ll never have children,” Nora said. “And you, too. I wish they’d let priests get married. Don’t you think it’s a little weird, priests preaching about love when they’re not allowed to feel it?”

  “Oh, priests know everything there is to know about love.”

  “You do, do you?” she asked with a smile.

  “Don’t confuse love with romance, young lady. Romance is beautiful, it’s a gesture, it’s a walk in a park with a pretty girl. Love is ugly sometimes. It’s a crawl into a war zone to save a friend. Romance whispers sweet nothings. Love tells painful truths. Romance gives an engagement ring. Love takes a bullet. I gave up marriage and children and sex and the comforts of family, because I love my Lord, and I would take a bullet for anyone in this church, including you, young lady. Now you tell me I don’t know what love is.”

  Nora couldn’t tell him that because she couldn’t say a word. She leaned over the pew and took Father Mike in her arms.

  “You’re flirting,” he said in a teasing tone. “My heart belongs to another.”

  “I’m not flirting,” she said, her head on his shoulder. “Sometimes even a lapsed Catholic needs a hug from a priest.”

  Father Mike chuckled and patted her on the back, kindly as a grandfather. Her phone buzzed in her pocket and she rolled her eyes.

  “Sorry,” she said. “That was me.”

  “Good. Afraid it was my pacemaker.”

  Nora glanced at her phone. “Well. Speak of the devil,” she said.

  “Is it him?” Father Mike whispered, grinning at her like a teenage girl at a sleepover.

  “It is.”

  “Answer it, lass. Maybe he’s finally coming around. I would if I were him.”

  Nora leaned over the pew, kissed Father Mike on the cheek and hit the answer button.

  “This better be good,” she said.

  “Define good,” came a sonorous voice over the line.

  “I’m very busy,” she said. “I’m at St. Luke’s helping a priest friend of mine organize his hymnals.”

  “If I didn’t know Mike O’Dowell, I would assume ‘organize his hymnals’ was a euphemism.”

  “Not a euphemism unless you’re calling to ask me to organize your hymnals.”

  “My hymnals are in perfect order already, but thank you.” His voice was cool, tempered, even. Yet she sensed something not right, a fissure in his composure.

  “Then to what do I owe the pleasure of this phone call?”

  “I need you.”

  “Should I bring wine and wear lingerie?” she asked. “Or bring lingerie and wear wine?”

  “Not necessary. I’m afraid this won’t be a particularly romantic evening.”

  “What’s wrong?” she asked, slipping out the side door of St. Luke’s and into the parking lot.

  “There was an accident.”

  “What happened?” Nora asked, her stomach sinking to the asphalt. “Was someone hurt?”

  “We can discuss it tonight. I should go.”

  “Søren—wait. Was anyone hurt?”

  “Yes,” he said, sounding resigned and tired.


  “We can talk about it tonight.”

  “Søren,” she said again. “Please, you’re scaring me. Who was hurt?”

  He sighed and Nora’s heart died a little in the sigh. That he didn’t want to tell her who was hurt meant she didn’t want to know.

  “I was.”


  Cleaning Wounds

  NORA DROVE TO Sacred Heart as fast as she could praying the entire way she’d find Søren alone in the house. She parked her car behind the house in the grove that ringed the rectory. When Nora reached the side door of the rectory she found a sign taped to the window. It read “No visitors allowed. Leave Father Stearns alone. This is an order.” It was signed “Diane, Who Means Business.”

  Thank God for Diane. At least she knew no one would bother her and Søren tonight.

  “Søren?” she called out when she slipped through the side door and into the kitchen. No one answered. The kitchen counters were bursting with small elegant arrangements in various pots and vases of the sort one received after the death of a loved one or during a long illness. Unapologetically nosy, she peeked at a card in the nearest arrangement, a single orchid in a pale blue pot, and read the note—“Heal fast, Father S. We need you to crush First Presbyterian with us. Love, Your Sacred Heart Soccer Team.”

  “Søren?” She called his name louder and raced through the house, seeking him out in every room. He wasn’t downstairs so she rushed upstairs, the soles of her navy blue sandals slapping loudly against the wood stairs.

  “In here, Eleanor,” he called back. She ran to the bathroom and found him standing in front of the sink. He had a gauze bandage wrapped around his right forearm and right hand. “I could use your assistance if you don’t mind the sight of blood, which we both know you don’t.”

  “Please tell me what happened,” she demanded, her heart galloping as if she’d run a four-minute mile. It hadn’t stopped since his phone call. “Are you all right?”

  “I’m fine. Sprained wrist. A few lacerations. Nothing that won’t heal.”

  She stepped into the bathroom and washed her hands brusquely.

  “If you could remove the gauze and then replace it, I would be in your debt,” Søren said. “It’s not easy to do with one hand.”

  “How did you of all people manage to sprain your wrist?” She took his arm into her hands and started peeling back the layers of gauze. “And why couldn’t you just tell me you had a sprained wrist over the phone? You were fighting with King again, weren’t you?” If he was, she’d sprain his other wrist.

  “A drunk driver ran me off the road.”

  “On your motorcycle?” Nora could scarcely breathe.

  “I’m afraid so. But like me, it only suffered cosmetic damage. I’m quite lucky. As a priest I should say I’m blessed, but let’s be honest, sometimes it’s nothing but luck that keeps one out of the morgue.”

  “Oh, my God.” Nora could barely speak for the shock and fury. “A drunk driver ran you off the road? Who is he? I’ll kill him.”

  “She, not he. She was a twenty-year-old college student, and she is already dead so I wouldn’t worry about exacting any revenge. She’s in God’s hands.”

  “ were involved in a fatal car accident, and you didn’t tell me?”

  “I just told you.”

  “You told me on the phone you’d been in an accident. You didn’t tell me it was a fatal car accident.”

  “I know how you drive under the best of circumstances. I didn’t want you in an accident on your way to see me.”

  “You would be furious at me if I’d been in a serious car accident and didn’t tell you.”

  “I’m a priest, Eleanor. I can hardly call you from the hospital, can I? I do rounds there and every doctor and nurse knows me. The nurse called Diane, and as soon as the church had word of the accident, I had a dozen parishioners at the ER offering their comfort, prayers and food. Don’t take offense. I would have much preferred your company.”

  “When did this happen?”

  “Two nights ago.”

  “Two nights?”

  Søren exhaled heavily. He’d always hated having to explain himself. He did everything for a reason, he’d said time and time again. Couldn’t she simply trust that?

  “I’ve had visitors all yesterday checking on me. The bishop, half a dozen Jesuits, Diane and
her family, Dr. Sutton, Dr. Keighley and, of course, Claire insisted on staying the night last night. My sister is, as you know, overprotective of me.”

  “Did Diane bring you home?”

  “Claire did. And she’s also taking care of repairs to the Ducati. I knew you’d be worried about it.”

  She couldn’t have cared less about the fucking motorcycle.

  “That’s good.” Nora nodded. “I’m glad Claire was here. And you... I’m glad you’re okay.”

  “I will be once the bandage is changed.”

  “Right.” She took the hint and got back to work. “Sorry. I’m not used to this.”

  Her hands shook as she finished unwrapping the bandage from his arm. When she peeled back the gauze pads she found road rash, raw and red but healing.

  “Dealing with minor wounds? I would think the most infamous dominatrix in the state would be an expert by now.”

  “I’m not used to being the last person to know when something’s happened to you.”

  “You aren’t the last to know. I haven’t told Kingsley. You know how he feels about doctors and hospitals.”

  “I’ll tell him. He won’t yell at me as much as he’ll yell at you.”

  “Tell him not to send flowers. He sent so many flowers when my mother died, I could have started my own nursery.”

  “I’ll request booze instead.”

  “A much better gift.”

  Nora held his arm over the sink and washed the wounds with antiseptic. Anyone else would have flinched and winced at the discomfort, but Søren remained stoic, expressionless.

  Pink fluid, blood and water, filled the sink. As gently as she could, she scrubbed at the lacerations. Bits of rock came out, black flecks on the white porcelain.

  “Fuck,” she said. “You still have pavement in your arm.”

  “They warned me at the hospital it would take time for it all to work its way out.”

  Nora blinked back tears, her throat too tight to speak. Visions of the accident wormed their way unbidden into her mind—screaming tires, twisting metal, Søren’s precious blood drying on the asphalt.

  “I wanted to do this to you,” Søren said, his head bent over hers as she worked. “The first day I ever saw you.”

  “You wanted to wash my arm in your sink? That’s a weird kink.”

  Søren laughed softly. “Your knees. You had the ugliest scrapes on them, remember? Someone had pushed you at school, and your knees looked like they had half the sidewalk embedded in them.”

  “They healed eventually.”

  “I was worried you were being neglected. The day I met you... You dressed like a street urchin and appeared injured and unwashed.”

  “Mom worked two jobs. If there was neglect it was benign neglect.”

  “There is no such thing. Still, I thought it a promising sign, the scrapes on your knees. You were clearly a young lady not afraid of pain or bothered by blood. Sadists don’t play well with the squeamish.”

  Nora grinned. “You can’t be squeamish and be a dominatrix, either. The shit I have seen in the last couple years could turn your hair blond.” She looked up at him. “Oops. Too late.”

  “That bad?” he asked.

  “That good. I wasn’t complaining. I love my job. Most of the time.”

  “What about the rest of the time?”

  “Do you love your job all the time?” she asked him.

  “Point taken.”

  In silence she finished cleaning the wounds on his arm. He must not have been wearing his gloves because the heel of his palm had received the brunt of the impact.

  “Did they give you any painkillers?” she asked.

  “Vicodin. I’m trying not to take any.”

  “Stop being a martyr. If you don’t take them, I will. Those bad boys are serious fun.”

  Søren glared at her. “It isn’t martyrdom. The pain is...calming. And distracting. A college student with her entire life ahead of her had a little too much fun at a friend’s birthday party and died two nights ago, almost taking me with her. I’d rather focus on my pain than her family’s.”

  “Can I talk you into taking two ibuprofen and a glass of wine?”

  “I could be persuaded. But first... I need your assistance with one more injury.”

  “You cut up somewhere else?”

  “My back,” he said.

  Nora pursed her lips and raised her hands to his shirt buttons.

  “This better not be a ploy just to get me to undress you,” she said, carefully easing his black clerical shirt off him and dropping it onto the floor.

  “If it were such a ploy I would have said I had a groin injury.”

  “Good point. Turn around.” She picked up the bottle of antiseptic as Søren turned his back to her. She nearly dropped it into the sink. “Oh, my God...”

  From his shoulder to his hip he was nothing but one solid purple bruise, with a few patches of road rash by his waist.

  “I landed hard and skidded,” Søren explained far too calmly for someone who’d looked death in the eye two nights ago. “On my back, as you see.”

  “I see,” she said, swallowing a sudden hard lump in her throat. She could barely look at him and she couldn’t bear to look away. Apart from one night he’d been with Kingsley a decade ago, she’d been Søren’s only lover since he was eighteen years old. She felt protective of his body and terrible violence had been done unto it. Anger burned bright but she had nowhere to direct it.

  “That can’t be comfortable,” Nora said, raising her hand to touch his wounds but lowering her hand again, afraid to hurt him.

  “I wouldn’t recommend the sensation. But you know more about bruises than I do,” he said, and the levity in his voice sounded forced.

  “Not this bad,” she said. “Have you seen your back?”

  “I’ve had worse.”

  “That will heal, won’t it?”

  “The doctor said it’s mostly first-degree road rash with a few patches of second-degree road rash. As long as it stays clean it shouldn’t scar. The bruise will heal in a month.”

  “Good. As long as you’re okay.”

  “I haven’t been ‘okay’ since you left me.”

  “You start a fight with me tonight, and I’ll pour lemon juice all over your cuts.”

  “Truce.” He held up his hands.

  “Truce,” she said, almost wanting to fight. It would make her feel better, as if things were normal between them. “At least until you heal. Then the war’s back on.”

  Nora looked down at the small gauze pads. She’d go through an entire box of them trying to clean up the laceration under his rib cage.

  “Something wrong?” he asked.

  “Hold on. I have a better idea.”

  Søren turned around as she yanked her shirt off.


  She opened the shower door and turned on the water.

  “It’ll be easier to do it in the shower.” She unzipped her
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