The queen, p.40
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       The Queen, p.40
 

         Part #8 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz

  seeing them like this, seeing Kingsley like a scared child seeking love and safety in his father’s arms.

  Nora turned to go, to give them their privacy, but Søren said her name.

  She turned back around and looked down at them.

  Kingsley released Søren first and stood up straight. He and Søren locked eyes before Kingsley nodded at something Søren didn’t have to say. When Søren brushed his lips across Kingsley’s forehead, Kingsley closed his eyes, wincing as if the kiss burned. With his composure regained, Kingsley headed up the stairs, stopping to kiss her on the cheek as he passed. When she and Søren were alone, she continued downstairs and stopped on the final step meeting Søren eye to eye.

  “Four months?” Søren asked, his hands on her waist.

  “What’s four months?”

  “Can you spare me for four months? Kingsley says he can as long as I’m home by New Year’s.”

  “You’ll go to Syria, but only for four months?”

  “Yes.” Søren clasped his hands in front of him. Although he didn’t have his collar on, he looked like a priest. Light from a street lamp streamed through the windows and surrounded him like a ghostly halo. All she had to do was take a step forward and she would be inside his circle of light.

  “If Kingsley can spare you four months, so can I,” she said, sticking to the shadows where she felt safest. She didn’t want him to see the look of relief on her face, the tears in her eyes.

  “You’ll tear up your ticket?”

  “It’s refundable,” she said, her voice hoarse and sticking in her throat.

  “You were really going to follow me to Syria if I moved there permanently?”

  “Søren,” she said, shaking her head. “I already hired a house sitter.”

  “I’m touched. Truly.” His words could have been sarcastic, and she wouldn’t have blamed him, but they weren’t. He was touched. Truly.

  “I can’t come back to you, but I won’t live without you, either. One is purgatory. The other would be hell.”

  Søren stepped closer, brought his mouth to hers. Nora pulled back.

  “What about your vows?” she asked.

  “They can start tomorrow.”

  Nora laughed and took him in her arms, kissing him and being kissed with abandon. His hands slipped into the robe, found her breasts and held them as his tongue tasted her mouth and she tasted his. He slid his hand between her legs.

  “Kingsley?” he asked. She knew he could feel the wetness inside her.

  “He needed it. So did I,” she said as his fingers slipped in deeper. “Do you need it?”

  “No,” he said, and she did her best to hide her disappointment. His hands left her body and she tightened the robe about her again.

  “So you’re really going to try this whole chastity/celibacy thing?” she asked.

  “I was celibate for fourteen years before you. I could make it another fourteen years.”

  “You’ll miss me.”

  “I already do.”

  “What if I said I’d come to you?”

  “I’d take you back to me.”

  “Vows be damned?”

  “Not damned,” he said. “Merely dented.”

  “You should come up and stay the night with us. For old time’s sake.”

  “Didn’t we just have the chastity discussion ten seconds ago?”

  “Remind me—was that before or after your fingers were inside me?”

  “Touché.” He kissed her again but quickly before taking a step back. “I should go. Eight o’clock Mass tomorrow morning.”

  “You leave Wednesday?”

  “Wednesday. We should say our goodbyes now,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll have another chance before I go.”

  “I could take you to the airport. Or King will. Or we both will.”

  “Diane’s taking me. If either of you do...”

  “What?”

  “I might not get on the plane.”

  Nora smiled. Søren could be cold and cruel at times but other times it seemed he was born to say the words she most needed to hear.

  “Goodbye then,” she said. “Be safe. I don’t know what I’ll do without you.”

  “If I know you—and I do—you’ll find something to occupy yourself,” he said. He kissed her cheek and turned to leave. She wanted to be strong enough to let him go without another word. But she wasn’t so she ran to him, ran into the light, and let him take her in his arms. The tears flowed freely, and he rocked her against him.

  “My love.” He sighed as he held her. “My Little One...”

  She inhaled deeply, breathing in the scent of snow on his skin and hair, the eternal winter that he carried inside him. He smelled like Christmas Eve, the one night of the year even grown-ups could believe in magic.

  “You weren’t really going to leave forever, were you? Leave us forever?” she asked. “You know I love you. You know I’ll always love you. Even if I can’t...if we can’t make this work, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. You’re...”

  “What?”

  “You’re my everything,” she said. “I know you could leave me. I’ve given you every reason to. But Kingsley?”

  “I would have stayed away as long as I needed to,” he whispered against her hair.

  “For what?”

  “Winning, of course,” he said. “The endgame.”

  He pulled up and brushed her hair from her face, brushed the tears from her cheeks.

  “I should have known this was part of some strategy of yours. What is your endgame, Blondie? Tell me so I know how to beat you.”

  “My endgame is the same endgame as in every game of chess.”

  “Which is?”

  Søren glanced at the stairs that led up to Kingsley’s inner sanctum.

  “Protect your king.”

  Of course. So that’s why it had to be this way, why Søren had to leave or why he had to at least try to leave. Leaving was the only move that could force Kingsley into forgiving Søren, force them into a long-overdue reconciliation. Kingsley needed Søren and Søren needed Kingsley, but they were so damn stubborn the rift between them might never have healed if Søren hadn’t taken this assignment. This game wasn’t chess. It was poker, and Søren held all the aces. Tonight, for the first time in three years, she’d seen Kingsley in Søren’s arms, clinging to him with need and love and everything he had and felt for Søren. Søren hadn’t been bluffing by packing his bags to leave. But he had gotten her and Kingsley to finally show him the cards in their hands—all hearts.

  She pulled Søren tighter to herself, rested her chin on his shoulder. She felt the strength of him against her, his impressive height, his broad shoulders. And yet he felt fragile to her, too.

  Into his ear she prayed her first true prayer since she’d left him.

  “‘Because you have made the Lord your refuge / the Most High your dwelling place / no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. / For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways / On their hands they will bear you up...’”

  Nora paused and swallowed. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I don’t remember the rest.”

  “‘On their hands they will bear you up / So that you will not dash your foot against a stone...’”

  “Or crash your motorcycle,” Nora said. “Or get shot or stabbed or beaten up by mean priests or juvenile delinquents.”

  “I don’t recall those verses in Psalm 91.”

  “It’s my own translation,” she said, digging her fingers into the back of his neck to hold him as close as she could. There was nothing she wouldn’t give right there and then in exchange for a promise from God that Søren would come back to her in one piece. But God wasn’t offering her that deal so she could do nothing but let Søren go.

  “I’ll come home,” Søren said. “I promise.”

  “Please,” she said. “You take my heart with you.”

  He kissed her forehead. “Little One
, you are my heart.”

  After one last kiss, there was no more to say. By the time she heard the roar of his Ducati’s engine starting, she was already on her way back to Kingsley’s bed. She found Kingsley awake and waiting for her, sitting on the edge of the bed.

  Nora stood in front of him and he rested his head against her breast, wrapped his arms around her waist and she kissed the top of his head.

  “You saved me,” Kingsley said, clinging to her as tightly as he’d clung to Søren. “You found a way to keep him here. Four months is nothing next to forever. You were going to go with him?”

  “If that’s what I had to do,” she said softly.

  “I was wrong.”

  “About what, my King?” she asked in a gentle tone. The time for pain was over. Now was an hour for solace.

  “I told you there were three ways to be a queen. There are four.”

  “What’s the fourth way?”

  “You can be born a queen.” He looked up at her. “That’s why you are a queen. Not because I made you one or you stole a throne or a crown. You were born to be the queen and you are.”

  “You know, in chess the queen is the strongest piece on the board.”

  Kingsley chuckled softly. He pushed the robe aside to kiss her nipples.

  “I know. And the king is the most vulnerable.”

  “There is one person stronger than the queen or the king combined,” she said.

  “Who?”

  “The man who moves the pieces.”

  35

  The Call

  NORA WOKE UP with a hangover and a body in her bed.

  The hangover was from drinking with Kingsley last night.

  The body was Griffin’s.

  How the two had converged was a bit murkier.

  Nora considered crawling out of bed but Griffin chose that moment to put his heavy arm over her lower back, pinning her against his sleeping form. His naked sleeping form. That didn’t necessarily mean they’d had sex. Griffin always slept naked. She wasn’t naked. And she was in her own bed in a too-large black shirt still wearing panties. Through the dark she could see her shoes on the floor by the chair, her skirt and bra over the back. Griffin must have undressed her for bed because as drunk as she’d been last night, there was no way her clothes would have ended up laid out that neatly. The shirt she wore felt expensive. Must be Griffin’s.

  Nora settled in against Griffin’s chest and tried to remember what he was doing here. She searched the stormy recesses of her mind and found a memory—she and Kingsley at his town house and several empty bottles of wine. It looked like a party but it wasn’t. They weren’t celebrating anything. They drank to forget and she woke up remembering. Griffin had shown up at some point and had driven her home. Knowing her she’d asked him to stay. Knowing Griffin, he would have stayed anyway just to keep an eye on her.

  Finally, Griffin shifted in his sleep, allowing her to move. She crawled out of bed and went to the bathroom, drank a glass of water, brushed her teeth. When she walked back into her bedroom, Griffin was still asleep. She took his watch off the nightstand and squinted at the face in the dark. Almost 6:00 a.m.

  Six o’clock Tuesday morning. Søren’s plane left for Damascus in twenty-four hours. She couldn’t let him go somewhere so far away and so dangerous without taking her heart with him. Her heart and her collar.

  Nora opened her closet door as quietly as she could. In the back on the floor inside a rosewood box was her collar, the one he’d given her when she was eighteen, the one that marked his ownership of her. She unlocked it with the key and held the collar in her hand.

  If Nora could lie to herself, she’d say that it was last night she made her decision, sometime between her third and fourth glass of wine. But it was actually Sunday night when she held Søren in her arms and prayed God would keep him safe in Syria...that’s when she made her decision. As soon as she was certain to find Søren alone at the rectory, she would go to him and give him her collar, and she would tell him he could put it on her again when he returned from Syria. It would give him a reason to stay safe for her. Because she could never do this again. It would take everything she had to let Søren leave even for four months. What was she going to do for four months? How would she sleep at night knowing she couldn’t see him when she needed him? When he needed her? No, she was done. She was done running because she knew all this time, for three years, she’d been running on a treadmill, exhausting herself and getting nowhere. She loved him as much as ever. She wanted him more than ever. And she had looked into a future without Søren and knew she couldn’t live in that world. She wouldn’t be Mistress Nora anymore. She would have to give up that part of herself. But better to sacrifice part of herself than lose all of Søren.

  Wasn’t it?

  So today she’d go back to Søren and give him her collar. Then she’d have nearly four months—September, October, November, a couple weeks in December—to put her house up for sale and find a day job. She could go on the freelance circuit or teach writing to the aspiring. One of her clients, a big shot computer company CEO, had just lost his personal assistant of ten years to her new baby. He’d already asked Nora to come work for him and keep him in line. Maybe she would take the job. Babysitting a billionaire could have its perks. She’d take the three and a half months to find her clients new dommes. She could downsize her life and rent a small house in Wakefield so she could be close to Søren, at his beck and call once more.

  Wings clipped. The bird safely back in a cage.

  But it was such a beautiful cage...

  “Nora?”

  Nora placed her collar back in the box and closed her closet door.

  “Sorry,” she said. “I was trying to be quiet.” She slid in next to him, and he rolled onto his side facing her.

  “You feel okay?” he asked in a sleepy voice. He reached for her and pulled her close.

  “Sure. Why wouldn’t I?”

  “You don’t remember last night, do you?”

  “What did I say?”

  “You said I should say goodbye to Mistress Nora, because she was going away tomorrow.”

  “That was melodramatic of me, wasn’t it?”

  “To say the least.”

  “It wasn’t a cry for help, I promise. I’m not committing suicide or anything like that.”

  “No, you’re going back to Søren.”

  “I told you that, too?”

  “You didn’t have to. I knew what you meant.”

  Nora nodded.

  “Did we have sex?” she asked, lifting the cover playfully, hoping to change the subject.

  “I don’t fuck drunk girls,” Griffin said, lightly rubbing her back. “So...you sober yet?”

  Nora held up two fingers in front of her face and saw three.

  “Give me a minute.”

  Griffin took her in his arms and she stretched out on top of him.

  “Sorry to give you a scare,” she said. “King and I were drinking last night. And the night before. And the night before...”

  “You’ve been partying too much lately,” Griffin said. “When I say that, you know there’s a problem.”

 
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