The queen, p.37
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       The Queen, p.37

         Part #8 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 

  “They’ll find another priest.”

  “They need you, not some other priest.”

  “They need me?”

  “They need you.”

  “What about you?” he asked, looking at her face. “Do you need me?”

  “No,” she said. “But I want you.”

  “You’ll survive without me. You’ve been surviving without me for over three years.”

  “Kingsley might not.”

  “Kingsley survived without me for ten years.”

  “He would have died without you, and you know it.”

  “He won’t die without me now. He has Juliette. He loves her. She loves him.”

  “He loves her. He needs you.”

  “He shouldn’t need me.”

  “That doesn’t change the fact that he does.”

  “Did Kingsley put you up to this?”

  “Kingsley screamed at me today, and he did so after he entered my house without permission and watched a sex tape I’d made with a friend—also without permission. So as you can imagine, he’s not my favorite person today. And yet, here I am, begging you to stay. For his sake and mine.” She didn’t tell him Kingsley fired her. She didn’t tell him the tape was a blackmail tape. She didn’t tell him a lot of things she wanted to tell him including the words I do need you, whether I want to or not.

  “What about my sake?”

  “You really want to go to Syria?”

  “Why is it so hard for you to believe that I want to do what Jesuits do? Eleanor, I was never supposed to be a parish priest. If that had been the case I hardly would have joined the Jesuits. I could have skipped five years of seminary and been a diocesan priest instead. I was sent to Sacred Heart because it was their way of slapping me on the wrist for informing on a sex offender priest. I stayed here this long because of you. And then you left. Why should I stay?”

  “If you want a new assignment, fine. Ask them to transfer you to the Jesuit mission in the city or go teach at your old school in Maine or one of the eight million Jesuit schools in New England. Go somewhere we can at least see you every now and then.”

  “Do you know how few Jesuit priests speak Arabic?”

  “If I truly believed you were doing this because you wanted to do it and not for any ulterior motive, I would kiss you right now and give you my blessing. But I can’t. I don’t.”

  She shook her head in consternation.

  “I have to tell something, Eleanor, and you’re not going to like it.”

  “What?”

  Søren leaned in and whispered in her ear.

  “I didn’t ask for your blessing.”

  Nora growled at him. Søren laughed. He took her hand in his, kissed the back of it.

  “I need time,” Søren said finally.

  “Time for what?”

  “Time to simply be a priest. That’s all. No distractions. No complications. Being both Father Marcus Stearns and Søren is...”

  “What?”

  “In a word—exhausting. I want to be Father Stearns for a while. Only Father Stearns.”

  “I’ll miss Søren.”

  “I wish you missed Father Stearns. I admit I was jealous hearing you were talking to Father Mike O’Dowell instead of me.”

  “Just talking. No flirting. Speaking of flirting with priests, who’s taking over for you when you leave? And is he cute?”

  “The associate pastor at Immaculate Conception is the interim replacement. You’ll have to decide for yourself if he’s cute. And he’s stopping by any minute now to talk about the transition so you should go. I’d rather not have to explain your presence on my piano bench.”

  “Then take me to bed.”

  “That would be even harder to explain. But if you want to come back tonight, I’d like to give you a proper goodbye.”

  “We’ll see,” she said. “I might be in jail by tonight.”

  “Again? What did you do this time?”

  “It’s nothing I’ve done. It’s something I’m going to do.”

  “That sounds foreboding.”

  “You remember Milady?”

  “I’ve never forgotten her.”

  “I inadvertently stole her favorite client out from under her. This apparently was the last straw. She’s blackmailing a friend of mine, stole his phone with pics of him and his doctor girlfriend on it.”

  “She’s his doctor?”

  “She is. Almost as bad as a priest sleeping with a parishioner, right? Milady’s blackmailing him to force him to blackmail me. So I’m going to kill her.”

  “We aren’t under the seal of the confessional. I can report you for threatening someone’s life.”

  “I’ll kill you, too, then. That’s one way to keep you from leaving.”

  “We both know you’re not going to kill Milady.”

  “I might if I knew her real name or where she lives. But I don’t think anybody does. I have to do something, though. She’s trying to hurt me. She’s already hurt a friend of mine. She could probably hurt my client, too, the one who was her client once. Oh, and she cut your hair and wore it in a locket around her neck just to fuck with me. If that isn’t a capital crime worthy of the death penalty, I don’t know what is.”

  “You’re still angry about that?” he asked. She could tell her displeasure pleased him.

  “A skosh.”

  “I’m going to tell you something again, Little One. This time you might like it.”

  “Please. I could use a little good news today.”

  Søren stood up and walked over to his steamer trunk. He pulled keys from his pocket and unlocked it. On his knees he pushed this and that aside until he seemingly found what he was looking for.

  He stood back up and walked over to her with a white envelope in his hand.

  “I realize this might tarnish the romantic aura around the memory of me selling a lock of my hair to buy you a laptop,” he said. “But you did tell me she’d threatened you. While in her presence I made, well, let’s call it a preemptive strike.”

  Nora opened the envelope and inside it was a driver’s license. She didn’t recognize the name on the license, but she did recognize the photograph.

  She couldn’t get a word out at first. Her heart swelled and warmth radiated from the center of her chest out into the world, as if her heart was a cymbal and someone had struck it with a mallet. Her eyes filled with tears and her throat closed.

  “Eleanor?”

  She raised her hand, needing a moment’s silence.

  “You let her kiss you so you could steal her driver’s license,” she said when she could finally speak again. “For me.”

  Nora came to him and wrapped her arms around him.

  “For you,” he said, kissing the top of her head. “You said she wanted to hurt you.”

  “That’s your job,” she said. And hurting him was her job. They were too good at their jobs.

  Nora laughed against his chest, wiped her tears on his T-shirt.

  “How?”

  “She has a phone number clients use to make appointments. I called her. I told her I’d heard she’d threatened you. She said we should meet and talk about it. I agreed as long as we met in public and she wore vanilla attire in case one of my parishioners saw me. It was like stealing candy from a baby. People trust the clergy. Too much perhaps.”

  She stared at him, incredulous. “I’m speechless.”

  “The words you’re looking for are ‘thank you.’”

  “Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  Søren bent to kiss her as she rose up on her toes to kiss him. Their mouths met in passion and sorrow. Passion for it was a powerful kiss of hunger and need. Sorrow as it might be their last kiss if she failed.

  “I’m giving you her license so you can protect yourself, not so you can hurt her. Try to remember we’re on the side of the angels,” he said.

  “So I can’t kill her?”

  He shook his head.

  “Fine
. I’ll talk to her. I might talk to her loudly. But I’ll only talk to her.”

  “That’s my good girl.”

  “Am I? You’re leaving. Am I still your girl?”

  “Forever,” he said. “My love for you isn’t going anywhere, I promise. Only my body.”

  “Your body’s my favorite part.”

  “I’d be hurt if I actually believed that.”

  “You know...” she said, putting her hand flat on his chest. “You know I love you, too.”

  “I do.”

  “So you know I’ll find a way to make you stay. I will. I promise you I will.”

  Søren caressed her cheek, rubbed his thumb over her bottom lip.

  “Little One, you won’t succeed, but I will enjoy watching you try.”

  She turned to leave him but stopped when he called her name.

  “Eleanor?”

  “What?” She didn’t turn back around.

  “I’ll take my keys back now.”

  With a sigh Nora tossed his keys over her shoulder, the keys she’d stolen from his pocket while they were kissing. She didn’t have to look back to know he caught them.

  “And my wallet.”

  Nora surrendered his wallet.

  So much for that plan.

  32

  Milady

  NORA DROVE TO a house on Long Island, a small house, pale yellow and gabled, a bit run-down. She knocked on the front door and waited. An elderly woman in linen pants and a faded blue cardigan answered the door.

  “Yes?” asked the white-haired woman with a slight smile. “Can I help you?”

  “Is Kimberly home?” Nora asked. “I’m an old friend of hers.”

  “Grandma? Who’s at the door?”

  And there she was, Milady herself, standing at the top of a hardwood staircase in a plain navy skirt and white blouse staring down at Nora with murder in her eyes. Nora grinned.

  “Hi, Kim,” Nora said. “I was in the neighborhood. Want to go for a walk?”

  “Sure,” Milady/Kim said. “Let me put on my shoes.”

  “Nice to meet you. Mrs. Matsui, right?”

  “That’s right. Have a nice walk,” she said as Milady stepped past her and onto the porch.

  “Pretty neighborhood,” Nora said as she started down the porch stairs. “Where should we go? Is there a park nearby?”

  “I’m not going anywhere with you. Not until you tell me how you found me.”

  Milady’s hands were tight fists and her lips a hard line of extreme displeasure.

  “Did you really think my priest would let you kiss him for money? A man who took a vow of poverty selling kisses for money?”

  Milady glanced to the left and nodded. “We met in a bad neighborhood. I assumed I’d been robbed on the street.”

  “That priest. Drives me crazy most of the time and I’ve thought about killing him a time or two but he’s damn pretty and insane in the sheets so what are you going to do?”

  “What are you going to do to me?” Milady asked.

  “Haven’t decided yet,” Nora said. “Before you get any ideas, let me clarify the situation. I know who you are—Kimberly Matsui. I know where you live—this cute little house in the burbs. I know your family—your grandfather owned a sushi restaurant that you worked in growing up, which is how you know Japanese. You are not, in fact, the daughter of a geisha. You didn’t attend Harvard or any college, much less get kicked out of one. You are the widow of a wealthy man, but you haven’t inherited any money from him yet because the will’s being contested by his children, who claim you seduced and abused their father. I know your whole life, so does Kingsley, his secretary and a few other people who will remain nameless. If anything happens to me, they will destroy you.”

  “I don’t deserve that. I didn’t abuse my husband.”

  “Did you fuck your last husband to death? His kids seem to think so.”

  “My last husband died of cancer. Cancer I nursed him through. We didn’t have sex once the last year of his life—he was too sick.”

  “Maybe if you didn’t marry a rich man thirty-five years older than you, you would have gotten a little more sympathy from his kids—his kids who are older than you, I noticed.”

  “His children are vultures who hated him for divorcing their poor sainted mother. They only wanted his money. I was his wife, his lover, his nurse and his domme. Of course he changed his will to give me everything when he died.”

  “That’s a very sweet, sad story. Should I call the Orange County Sheriff’s Department now and tell them where you’re living so the process server can finally deliver that subpoena you’ve been hiding from? Your late husband’s children would like their day in court over the will.”

  “I’d prefer it if you didn’t.”

  “You might win the case. Sounds like it’s a stalemate right now. The estate’s in limbo until you turn up.”

  “I won’t win. Doesn’t matter that I was his wife, that I took care of him while he was dying. We met at a kink club. I was his dominatrix. I will be laughed out of that courtroom and you know it. True, I can’t get his money while I’m hiding, but neither can his kids, and that’s good enough for me.”

  “I could tell them where you are.”

  “Are you going to?”

  “You have Thorny’s phone so I’m willing to make a trade. My silence for his secrets? And my secrets. And my priest’s secrets.”

  “I don’t even know your priest’s real name. You have me at a disadvantage.”

  “It wouldn’t take long to find out the real name of the one and only six-foot-four blond priest in the area. There aren’t that many priests to go around anymore. His personal life’s never been exposed because Kingsley protects him, I protect him and our community protects him. We keep each other’s secrets out of respect for each other. You have no respect for our community.”

  “I have to take care of myself. I have to take care of my grandmother. There’s no one else to do it for me. And when my best customer leaves me for you, I have to take care of business.”

  “Talel has every right to see who he wants to see. If his father found out he was a submissive who paid women to dominate him, he’d be cut off and exiled. You think a domme who regularly blackmails her clients is the right domme for someone in that position?”

  “I have to take care of me.”

  “Then it’s your decision. I leave it up to you. You ruin Thorny’s life or mine or my priest’s, and I ruin yours. Or you can give me back Thorny’s phone and shut down your fear factory. We all
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