The queen, p.39
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       The Queen, p.39
 

         Part #8 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz

  “I’ll tackle-hug him gently,” Claire said and squeezed Nora’s hand one more time before releasing her. She ran to Søren, and Nora laughed as she saw Claire, now a grown woman of twenty-nine, throw herself into her big brother’s arms the way she had all those years ago when Nora had gone with him to his father’s funeral. Nora was grateful for Claire’s presence in his life. She was Søren’s solid ground, and she had a gift for taking that pompous priest and turning him back into a human being with one tackle-hug and a playful insult.

  “Frater!” Claire said, clinging to him as if she’d die the second she let go of him.

  “Behave yourself, Soror,” Søren said, patting her on top of her head. “Don’t scare my congregation. They’re under the impression you’re the normal one in the family, and we wouldn’t want to disillusion them.”

  From a distance of about twenty feet, Nora watched as Søren introduced Claire to every member of Sacred Heart who’d come to his profession of Final Vows. Nora could see from their faces and hear from their words that none of them knew yet Søren was leaving forever that week. Knowing Søren he’d decided to depart without a long drawn-out goodbye. No going-away parties. No fanfare. Only an announcement from the pulpit made by the interim priest that Father Marcus Stearns had been called to the mission field. He sends his love and asks for your prayers.

  With any help from God and a little luck, no one would be making that announcement.

  When at last the final parishioner had give Søren a handshake or a hug or a kiss on the cheek, Nora stepped out of the shadows and walked to him. Claire said something in his ear and walked away after throwing Nora one last pleading look.

  An eerie calm came over Nora. A calm and a focus that seemed to come from outside herself. She was a woman on a mission and the mission was all that mattered.

  She reached into the pocket of her jacket and pulled out a folded rectangle of paper.

  “I’m glad you came, Eleanor,” Søren said. “It’s good to see you in church again.”

  They were in public. The chance of being overheard was too great to speak the truth to each other. They’d hide behind platitudes and code words. But she didn’t have to hide, not with what she wanted to say to him.

  “It was good to be in church again. Maybe I’m not so lapsed after all.”

  “I could have told you that,” he said. “Claire’s taking me to dinner this evening if you’d like to join us. I think you two would get along swimmingly.”

  “I have other plans. Just wanted to stop by and give you something.”

  “You don’t give a gift to a priest upon taking Final Vows,” he said. “It’s not like a First Communion.”

  “What I want to give you is a Bible verse. I memorized it for you. Is that an acceptable gift?”

  “Always,” he said. “What’s the verse?”

  “The Book of Ruth, chapter one, verses sixteen and seventeen.” Nora took a breath and recited by heart. “‘Do not ask me to leave you or forsake you for wherever you go I will go, wherever you stay I will stay, your people shall be my people and your God my God. Wherever you die, there I will be buried. May the Lord do so and more beside if anything but death separates us.’”

  Then she handed him the folded piece of paper from her pocket, the one she’d acquired on her very special errand.

  “Eleanor, this is an airplane ticket in your name.”

  “Destination Syria,” she said. “Where you go, I go. If you go to Syria, I go with you. And I won’t come home until you come home. I will not leave you. I will not forsake you. Where you die, I will be buried. And those are my Final Vows.”

  Then she took her ticket out of his hand, turned and walked away.

  She meant every word of her vow. If he was going into a war zone, she would go, too. Nothing could stop her. Going with him to Syria was the one trump card left in her hand. She’d made the largest bet of her life, and she wasn’t bluffing.

  Nora went to Kingsley’s town house and found him sitting in his office, staring out the window at nothing, nothing at all.

  Kingsley glanced over his shoulder at her and then turned back to the windows.

  Nora sat on the desk behind him and waited. A moment later Kingsley turned in his chair and rested his head in her lap. He’d fired her two days ago but none of that mattered now. She combed her fingers through his dark hair as if he were a sick child who needed a mother’s touch.

  “How long have you been sitting here brooding?” she asked.

  “For hours.”

  “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me,” she said, tugging his earlobe.

  “I forget sometimes you need a life outside of work.”

  “I do. But you’ll be happy to know I will never ever be seeing Thorny again during work or after hours.”

  Kingsley took a heavy breath. She felt his chest moving against her knees.

  “That doesn’t make me happy. Relieved, yes. But not happy. I do want you to be happy.” He looked up at her with wounded eyes, open and vulnerable, and she caught a glimpse of the teenage boy he’d been when Søren had first loved him.

  “By going back to Søren?”

  “Yes,” he said.

  “Why?” Nora touched Kingsley’s face, brushing her fingers over his cheek.

  “It’ll keep him here.”

  Nora tilted his chin up to meet her eyes, dominant talking to submissive now.

  “Is that the only reason?”

  “I miss him,” Kingsley said, whispering the words like a confession. “I miss how things used to be with the three of us. And I know how much he loves you. I wish I could imagine you with someone other than him, but I can’t. I wish I could imagine the three of us moving on and having our own lives without each other, but I can’t. Fuck, I even miss getting shit-faced with him at the rectory. We ended up on the roof once, and I still don’t remember how we got down. I miss him, Elle. It’s not even the sex. We haven’t had sex in over ten years. It’s him. It’s us. It’s our friendship. No, not that.” Kingsley looked up at her with sorrow in his eyes. “He’s all the family I have. If he leaves, he’ll take my family away from me.”

  Nora’s heart broke for him. He lowered his head to her lap again and she swiped at a tear on her cheek. Nora didn’t tell Kingsley what she’d done or said to Søren. She didn’t tell him about her plane ticket and her vows. He was already grieving Søren’s loss. Kingsley didn’t need one more thing to mourn.

  “Why does it always have to hurt so much?” Kingsley asked.

  “What?”

  “Life.”

  Nora smiled. “God’s a sadist. That’s why.”

  “You think so?”

  “Oh, I know so,” Nora said. “I’m a writer. I do what God does in miniature every time I write a book. I create worlds and people out of nothing—ex nihilo—and I torture the fuck out of them for four hundred pages.”

  “Because you’re a sadist?”

  “Partly that. Plus...if I didn’t torture them it would be a real fucking short book. And trust me on this, King, there is no money in short stories.”

  Kingsley laughed and buried his head into her lap again, seeking her comfort and safety and the shelter of someone stronger.

  “You’ve solved the oldest theological conundrum of all time,” Kingsley said. “Why does God allow suffering? Because there’s no money in short stories.”

  “I’ll tell you one more little secret about being a god. Even though I torture them for four hundred pages, it hurts me to do it.”

  “They aren’t real. Why does it hurt?”

  “I created them. They’re mine. I love them. God loves us, too, even when He hurts us. Especially when He hurts us, I imagine.”

  “Søren created me,” Kingsley said. “I owe my life to him, my world, my kingdom. Even Juliette. I never would have met her if he and I hadn’t fought. I can’t live without him any more than you can live without God.”

  “If I thought going back to hi
m would fix everything for you and me and him, I would do it.”

  “Forgive me,” Kingsley said. “I’m being selfish.”

  “You’re scared. So am I.”

  “What do we do?” Kingsley looked up at her again awaiting her answer.

  “What we always do.”

  “What’s that?”

  Nora bent over and kissed him. Against his lips she whispered one word.

  “Fuck.”

  “Now, that is the best idea I’ve heard all day.”

  34

  The Endgame

  NORA GATHERED TOYS from the playroom and took them to Kingsley’s bedroom where he waited for her. She locked the door behind her. The house was empty. No one was home but the two of them, which meant she could destroy Kingsley if she wanted to.

  And she wanted to.

  “Since I fired you, does this mean I don’t have to pay you?” Kingsley asked as she started to undress him. She pushed his jacket off his shoulders and unbuttoned his vest.

  “I don’t want your money tonight. Just you. Just us.”

  “You can have your job back. Tomorrow,” he said. “Tonight—”

  She covered his lips with one finger. No more talking necessary. She knew what he meant to say, that tonight they wanted nothing between them. They needed this, needed the comfort of each other. Nora and Kingsley were a secret society of two. The two acolytes of Søren. His acolytes, his lovers, his twin children whether they liked it or not. They had to grieve together because only they knew what they could be losing. So tonight wasn’t a job, it wasn’t an appointment and Kingsley wasn’t a client.

  Without another word, Nora stripped Kingsley naked. She drew him to the end of the bed and bound his hands high on the bedpost. A long slant of evening sunlight snuck into the room between and under the heavy damask curtains. She’d rarely seen Kingsley like this, naked in sunlight. She’d taken an art class in college and recalled being taught that all visual images were a combination of light, color, line, texture, mass and motion. The dappling light cast shadows on his body. His thick eyelashes looked dipped in gold. The color of his skin was olive and his hair was as dark as his eyes and his eyes were as dark as the wick of a candle after the fire had gone out. His body was composed of the straight line of his back, the curve of powerful shoulders, the V of his hips and the ridge of muscles in his legs and arms. His smooth warm skin was interrupted with whorls of old scars that would never fully heal. The mass of him was dense with muscle, hard with desire. And the motion of him was stillness, but active stillness, waiting stillness, strength in repose, power enchained. A work of art.

  Nora kissed him in the center of his back between his shoulder blades. A kiss like a blessing.

  “Je vous honore,” she whispered. She might be his domme, but he was still her King.

  From her case of toys she’d brought in from the playroom, she pulled out one whip. Then she pulled out a second one.

  She brought them over to Kingsley.

  “Two?” he asked.

  “Don’t worry. I’ve gotten much better at tandem whipping in two years.”

  “But two?”

  “Trust me,” she said. She lifted the handle of each whip to his lips and Kingsley kissed the knots. “How much pain do you want?”

  “Hurt me until I forget how much I hurt,” he whispered.

  Nora kissed his lips and whispered a “With pleasure” in return.

  She stood back from him and made a few practice cracks with the whips. The whips were in her thrall and danced at her every command. For the past two years she’d practiced her whip work, wanting to be better than Søren, as good as Milady. But not to show off or impress anyone. She learned how to use two whips in tandem so she could do this—hurt Kingsley until he forgot how much he hurt.

  Nora hurt him.

  She focused her attentions on the sides of his body, striking him over and over again from the back and outside of his thighs to the sides of his hips. She struck his back along the sides as well, leaving the spine alone while she ravaged him along his rib cage all the way to his shoulders and down to his hips again. She dropped the second whip and used the one in her right hand to pinpoint her strikes. By the time she finished Kingsley had tiger stripes on both sides of his body, wrapping around his rib cage to his chest. Shallow wounds but bleeding. Nora could have taken him down then but she didn’t. He needed to feel pain and she needed to give it. With a heavy flogger she flogged the welts from the whip, stacking pain upon pain, layering welts on top of whip wounds. Kingsley had been quiet at first but now his gasps and cries of pain flowed freely. She gave him more pain than she gave to anyone else because he wanted it and because he could take it. What was the old saying—that which does not kill us only makes us stronger? If that was true, then Kingsley might be the strongest man alive.

  Finally Nora dropped the bloodstained flogger. She unbound Kingsley and he dropped to his knees, unable to stand.

  “I want you,” she said, stroking his hair.

  “You have me.”

  She bade him to stand, bade him to pull the covers and sheets back. Because it would hurt the most, she ordered him to lie on his back in the center of the bed. She cuffed his wrists to the headboard and undressed. Now naked, she sat on his stomach, lowered her mouth to his mouth and kissed him. He was hard and she felt his thick erection against her wet labia. Unable to resist, she pushed down and against his cock and his head fell back with the pleasure of it.

  “Please...” he said.

  “Are you sure?”

  Nora couldn’t deny him this simple request. She wanted it as much as he did. She pushed down and against him again and he lifted his hips up and into her. Slowly he worked his bare cock inside her. It would be fine. She had her IUD now. They were clean and there was nothing to be afraid of. Having nothing between them as he entered her felt like a step down a path they’d been afraid to take together. A path that might eventually lead them to where they could forgive each other and love each other and let the past go entirely.

  Nora pressed her hands into Kingsley’s lacerated sides as she rode him. His pain stoked his pleasure and he inhaled sharply, his head falling back against the black sheets again. She kissed the hollow of his throat, bit at his ears, bit at his chest and clavicle. Her body throbbed around his cock, clenching at it, squeezing it, holding it, caressing it with her inner muscles that wanted to take all of him into her as deep as she could, so deep it hurt. He pushed his heels into the bed and thrust into her from below hard enough to lift her off the bed. She clung to the headboard to steady herself as their bodies rocked together wildly, urgently. Wetness dripped out of her and coated his hips. Her teeth scored his shoulders. The pounding intensified into something animal, something blinding, something raw and fierce with need as naked and hungry as they were. Nora held off from coming as long as she could. She wanted to wait for him and he for her. When they came at last they came together, the orgasm obliterating sight and breath and even the world as it rocked through them, a shuddering that went on forever until it ended and Nora collapsed onto Kingsley’s chest.

  With him still inside her, she reached over his arms and unlocked the cuffs from the headboard. He rolled her onto her back and pulled out. Exhaustion hit her then and she remembered she’d barely slept the night before and the night before that. Fear had kept her awake but she wasn’t afraid now, not in this bed with this man who could and would kill to protect her if it ever came to that. She opened her legs for him and he slid two fingers into her, caressing his own semen in her body. When she fell asleep moments later, he was still inside her.

  When Nora woke it was full night. A sound had woken her, something like a knock or a bell. The bed was empty. She was alone. She slipped from the bed and found Juliette’s silk robe on the back of the bathroom door and put it on, cinching the cord around her waist. When she left Kingsley’s bedroom she heard something. Whispering voices that carried down the empty halls.

  She walked
down the main staircase and stopped on the landing. Søren stood in the foyer, a streetlight from outside turning his blond hair white. He had Kingsley in his arms.

  Nora said nothing. Since she’d gone to work for Kingsley, a rift had formed between him and Søren. This was the first time she’d seen them this close in three years. Oh, they joked, they teased, they drank together on occasion. But it wasn’t like this. It wasn’t honest like this. Kingsley clutched Søren’s lapels in his fists and his head rested on Søren’s shoulder. Søren had his arms around Kingsley, stroking his back with one hand while the other twined tight in Kingsley’s hair, holding him close. Blood had seeped through Kingsley’s white shirt and she knew Søren could feel the deep welts on Kingsley’s body through the fabric. Søren was whispering something in Kingsley’s ear, something that shook Kingsley to his soul. The way Kingsley’s back moved she could tell he was either weeping or trying not to. She’d seen Kingsley and Søren in bed together and it still hadn’t been half as intimate as
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