The queen, p.42
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       The Queen, p.42

         Part #8 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 

  “Not really,” he said, blushing slightly.

  “Have you ever had to sacrifice something of great value for someone you love?”

  “No.” He shook his head.

  “Have you ever had someone sell their own hair to buy you your heart’s desire?”

  “I can’t say that I have.”

  “I can tell. Let me tell you something about that story. It’s a horror story. The husband gives up his most valuable possession, his gold watch, to buy his wife combs for her beautiful long hair. The wife sells her hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch. At the end of the day they gave up everything they had of value and ended up with nothing. How is that a love story?”

  The young man shrugged, looking confused and flustered, and she knew she had him. She’d stumped him. He’d fold. He’d give up. He was cute and she liked looking at him but if he wasn’t going to fight back, she’d lose interest in him in five seconds.

  Five.

  Four.

  Three.

  Two.

  “They have each other,” the young man finally said. “That’s the point of the story. Who needs gold or hair when you have each other? Love isn’t about appearances, and it isn’t about money. It’s not a horror story. Only a cynic would say that, and I don’t think you’re a cynic.”

  “I might be a cynic.”

  “A cynic is someone motivated by self-interest. Teaching a class is the act of an optimist or at least someone motived by the public interest.”

  “You talk like a college freshman. Anyone ever told you that?” Nora asked.

  “It’s my first day as a college freshman. You’re my first time.”

  She raised her eyebrow at him and was rewarded by seeing him blush.

  “I’m just saying,” he said quickly, covering his embarrassment, “I don’t believe you’re a cynic. I do believe you’re trying to mess with us.”

  Tryin’ he said. No g at the end. Nora liked the way he talked. The way he talked, the way he smiled, the way he looked at her as if he’d never seen anything like her before in his life and knew he wouldn’t see anything like her ever again so he better not look away in case he missed something.

  “Little ole me? Mess with little ole you? Would I do something like that?”

  “Yes,” the young man said nodding. “I think you would. Ma’am.”

  In the back of her mind she heard Kingsley’s voice—This is a woman who can walk into any room, find the most handsome face in the crowd, look him in the eyes and know she will take him home with her on a leash.

  Where was her leash when she needed it?

  “What’s your name?” she asked Mr. Kentucky Blue with the gold flecks in his brown eyes and the summer in his hair.

  “Wesley Railey. Everyone calls me Wes.”

  “Stay after class,” she said to him.

  “Am I in trouble?”

  Nora smiled at him.

  “Yes, Wes. Yes, you are.”

  “Ms. Sutherlin?”

  “What is it... Gary?”

  “Geri. I’m a girl.”

  “I don’t judge. What were you saying, Geri?” Nora asked, still not taking her eyes off Wesley. It was unreal how much she liked looking at him. She felt a little dizzy, a little wobbly, even happy. The hangover was long gone and something like the opposite of a hangover had taken its place. Somewhere in the distance she heard something. It sounded like a door opening. A door she hadn’t even known was there. She could walk through it and she’d find herself on a path in the country with rolling green hills to the left and a silver singing stream to the right and a yellow summer sun in the bright blue sky. She wondered where this path ended. Didn’t matter. No matter where it ended she knew she had to follow it.

  “Ms. Sutherlin—you told me to remind you that you had something to do after class, and you shouldn’t be a pussy.”

  “Forget it.”

  “What?” Geri asked.

  “Don’t worry about it,” Nora said to Geri.

  “But Ms. Sutherlin—”

  She smiled at Wesley. Wesley smiled back at her. Then for some reason he laughed. He laughed as if he could read her thoughts and knew the kind of trouble he was in was exactly the kind of trouble he wanted to be in.

  As for whatever it was she was going to do after class...

  “It can wait.”

  37

  Forever

  Scotland

  2015

  “IT CAN’T WAIT,” Søren said.

  The sun had fled the chapel entirely. Halfway through her story she’d had to find candles and matches and light them against the dark.

  “What can’t wait?” she asked, studying Søren’s face. The anguish was still there. If only she knew how to ease it.

  “You’ve told me your confession. Here is mine. While I was in Syria those four months, I was a ‘good’ priest. Chaste. Celibate. Exactly what the church wanted me to be. And, as I’d feared, it didn’t help. I might have been a ‘good’ priest but it didn’t make me a better priest. I thought of you and Kingsley constantly. The early church never intended for clergy to be celibate. Even that pompous ass Saint Paul said it was better to marry than to burn. While apart from you and Kingsley, I burned.”

  Søren met her eyes and she saw cold fire blazing in them, a reflection of the candles against his steel-colored irises.

  “I had a choice to make. Continue down this path, the path of chastity like the church demanded, and let my priesthood suffer. Or accept that the rule of celibacy was not something God wanted for us and break the vow. I am a better priest because of you and because of Kingsley. You both keep me humble.”

  “We’re miracle workers then.”

  “You are,” he said with a smile, quickly there, quickly gone. “In Syria, I had a revelation. I was angry at you. And not because you left me, not because you’d taken a path I didn’t approve of or gone somewhere I couldn’t follow. That you had topped Kingsley and hurt him behind my back...”

  “You were mad at me because I was doing the very thing with Kingsley you wanted to do.”

  “The very thing I wanted to do but I couldn’t let myself do it. I was terrified of hurting him like I did when we were in school together, terrified of ruining his life again like I’d done before. I was angry at you. I resented your freedom, your fearlessness. I resented your nights with Kingsley. They should have been my nights with Kingsley. I know I shut the door on being with him, but you two locked it from the inside.”

  She knew he wasn’t speaking figuratively. The night of his Final Vows he’d come to Kingsley’s house. She’d heard something, something that had woken her up. Søren had come to Kingsley’s bedroom that night seeking them out and the door had been locked from the inside.

  “You didn’t know. I didn’t even know how much I wanted to be with him again until I came home that night and you showed me the riding crop he’d given you to beat him with. It was my own fault. I was afraid of hurting Kingsley, and I hurt him far worse in the process of trying to protect him. All of this I realized while I was in Syria. And that’s when I made my decision.”

  “What did you decide?” she asked, feeling the foundations of her world shiver at the revelation.

  “I decided two things—I would ask you to come back to me and be mine again. And you could still be Mistress Nora and you could still work for Kingsley as long as you would give me your blessing, give us your blessing.”

  “You wanted to be with Kingsley again.”

  Søren nodded.

  “My plane landed the day after Christmas. It hadn’t snowed, so I rode over and parked my motorcycle at the church on the corner of your street. I went into St. Luke’s and prayed that you would say yes and come back to me. I believed you would. I knew you would. I left my motorcycle in the church parking lot—I even locked it so you wouldn’t think I was an idiot.”

  Nora remembered her first words she’d ever spoken aloud to him—“You’re kind of an idiot. You know that, r
ight?” And all because he’d been too arrogant to put a lock on his motorcycle.

  “I walked from St. Luke’s down your street,” Søren continued. “It was dark. Kingsley kept tabs on you as well as he could and while we were apart he fed me bits of information to keep me going. You were safe. You were happy. That’s all he told me. I sensed he was keeping something from me. When I went to see you and ask you to come back to me, I found out what that was. Who that was.”

  “Wesley.”

  Søren paused before nodding solemnly.

  “As I walked from St. Luke’s to your home, my heart swelled with hope and happiness. I knew you loved me. I knew it like I knew my own name. But there he was. Eighteen years old. Innocent. Untouched. And he was moving into your house. I watched from the shadows under an oak tree and saw you two carrying in boxes and talking. Laughing. Finally you’d brought all the boxes in. You stood by his car and asked him, ‘Did we get everything?’ And Wesley said—”

  “He said, ‘Only one more thing.’ He made me hop on his back, and he gave me a piggyback ride into the house.” Details of that day had gone hazy in her memory. She hadn’t recalled that it was the day after Christmas that Wesley moved in, but what she did remember was the happiness she’d felt, the optimism, the joy of having someone to share her life and her home with for once.

  “You smiled and bit Wesley’s neck to make him laugh. I know what you look like when you’re in love. You were in love with him. You might not have known it yet, but I knew. I saw it.”

  Nora buried her face in her hands before looking up at him.

  “And I had never known such pain,” Søren said, his face a blank mask. “Even the day you left me could not compete with the agony of seeing you so happy as he moved into your house and into your life and into your heart. Standing there watching you two together was pure masochism. Yet I couldn’t stop looking at you and him. It was my penance. I’d waited too long. I’d lost my Little One. St. John of the Cross spoke of the ‘Dark Night of the Soul.’ Then, finally, that moment, I knew what he meant.”

  Nora lowered her head. Her eyes were watering. She felt shame and sorrow and regret—foreign feelings to a woman like her.

  “I’ve always wondered what changed...” she said. “After that year with my mother, I came back and you and I fought. But it never felt like a real fight. At the club you always gave me a hard time, but it was a joke, a role we played for the sake of everyone watching. Two gunslingers facing off at the OK Corral but when I was alone with you, you were you. Loving. Caring. Someone I could go to when I wanted to talk. Someone I wanted to go to when you needed me. But after you came back from Syria, I waited for you to call me and you didn’t. And when I saw you again, you weren’t you anymore. You were someone I didn’t know. Someone who scared me.”

  “Kingsley enjoyed accusing me of making decisions solely to punish him—I became a priest to punish him for leaving me after his sister died, I chose you over him to punish him, I went to Syria to punish him. None of that was true. But when I came home and found Wesley moving in with you and Kingsley had known the whole time and not told me...then I punished you both.”

  Nora shivered at the winter in his voice.

  “You barely spoke to Kingsley after you came back unless it was to threaten him. And that night I went to you for our anniversary, you were brutal. So much more brutal than you’d ever been with me. You left bruises on my face that night...” He’d held her face in his hand hard enough to leave bruises on her cheeks, kissed her hard enough to leave bruises on her lips. Bruises she couldn’t hide under long sleeves and jeans. Wesley had seen those bruises and nearly left her when she defended herself, defended Søren. “You diabolical priest, you did it on purpose. You left bruises on my face and neck to scare Wes away.”

  “It almost worked, didn’t it?”

  It had almost worked. In fact, it had almost worked so well she knew if she ever needed to truly send Wesley away, that was the way to do it.

  “Yes. But he didn’t scare as easy as you thought he would.”

  “Much to his credit. I know I was unbearable that year.”

  “You were an asshole.”

  Søren gave her a tight smile. “I won’t argue with that assessment. I was punishing you for having the audacity to move on when I’d finally come around to the idea of you being Nora, punishing Kingsley for hiding your relationship with Wesley from me because he was afraid I wouldn’t come back from Syria if I knew.” Søren paused to laugh a cold mirthless laugh. “Wesley was everything I wasn’t—young and innocent and untouched. I couldn’t accept that he was what you truly wanted. I refused to accept it. I used every trick in the book I could on you, Little One. Every mind game I had in my arsenal.”

  “And it worked,” she said. “Because here I am.” She stood up but only long enough to stand in front of him and kneel on the floor at his feet. “I came back. Finally.”

  “You did. And the night you came back to me was the first night I ever called you Nora.”

  “And the last night,” she reminded him with a smile. She remembered waking in his bed in that familiar darkness and Søren’s words, We’ll talk when it’s time. When she woke, he told her he would let her keep the clients she wanted to keep if she wanted to keep them. If she wanted to be Mistress Nora still, she could be. He wouldn’t stop her being Nora with everyone else as long as she was always his Eleanor, his Little One, when she was with him.

  Nora put her head in his lap and felt the comforting touch of his hand on her hair.

  “Will you forgive me?” he asked. “Kingsley knows all this. I’ve told him and he’s forgiven me. But will you forgive me?”

  “Do you really need me to tell you I forgive you?”

  “No, but it would comfort me to hear it.”

  “I can do something better than forgiving you.”

  Søren raised his eyebrow at her. Nora lifted her hands and unclasped the necklace she always wore that held the two wedding bands Søren had given her as a Christmas gift four years ago and the pendant her lover and submissive Nico had given her to wear when they were apart. She slipped the necklace and pendant into the pocket of her dress. Looking up at Søren she took his left hand in hers and slid the band onto his ring finger.

  “Forever.” She whispered her vow to him, the vow written on the band, a promise made, a promise she would keep.

  Søren gazed down at his hand as if seeing it for the first time. Then he took the other ring—the one engraved with the word everything—and slipped it over the fourth finger on her left hand.

  “Everything,” he said.

  No other words necessary. No other vows. They wouldn’t bother vowing to forsake all others because they both loved others. Kingsley was Søren’s heart as much as she was, as much as God was. She would no more ask him to give up his nights with Kingsley than she would ask him to stop giving his days to God. He would no more ask her to give up Nico than he would ask her to give up writing. This was how they were faithful to each other, by letting each other be faithful to their own hearts.

  “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”

  “Amen,” Nora replied.

  Amen.

  So be it.

  She rose up on her knees and they kissed in the chapel, they kissed to seal these, their true Final Vows.

  Never before had he kissed her so tenderly, so gently, as if she were fifteen again and this the only kiss he could trust himself to give her.

  “Make love to me,” she whispered into the kiss.

  Søren smiled against her lips. “Here? In the chapel?”

  “Roomier than a confessional booth, right? Please, sir?”

  He cupped her chin in his hand and brushed his thumb across her bottom lip.

  “Yes, Your Majesty.”

  Søren stood and pulled her off her knees and into his arms. With his hands in her hair, he pulled her head back to expose her neck to his kisses. His lips were gentle on her skin
, gentle enough to make her shiver and sigh. He sat down in the first pew and tugged her down into his lap. She went willingly, straddling his thighs with her knees as his hands slipped under the skirts of her dress, her Scottish wedding dress she’d worn on this night, her
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