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       The Saint, p.44

         Part #5 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 

  this. Do it now before it’s too late.”

  “I want to love him,” Nico said.

  He gave her a tired smile.

  “I’ll tell you the story of him and Sam and his club, The 8th Circle, one day. Then you’ll love him.”

  “Tell me now.”

  “No, it’s almost dawn.”

  “My vines need me,” he said, reaching for her and pulling her close.

  “Do you like being needed?” She settled against his chest, so broad and so warm. “Doesn’t it scare you?”

  “I like knowing another life depends on me for its being. I like proving it made the right choice to put its faith in me. Does it scare you?”

  “Being needed? Yes. Very much. Probably one reason why I decided long ago I didn’t want children, not even Søren’s. And it’s why I’ve never owned anyone.”

  “Never?”

  She shook her head. “I’ve had pets—human ones. But that was just play at the club. I never owned anyone the way Søren owned me. It’s terrifying to be needed. Being responsible for another human being? For years? Sounds like a prison sentence. I don’t even have plants.”

  “You should try it,” he said. “It’s not as bad as you think it is. It’s not always a prison. Sometimes it’s a palace. Subjects need their kings and queens.”

  He brushed her hair off her shoulder. Nora smiled to herself.

  “What?” Nico asked, touching her lips. “What’s the smile for?”

  “You just reminded me of something I said once—it’s nothing.” She kissed his fingertips.

  “You said you never needed Søren, but he needed you.”

  “He did, yes. Even after I left him he would call me sometimes and tell me he needed me. I loved him so I went to him.”

  “Did that feel like a prison sentence to you?”

  “No,” she confessed, recalling those nights she slipped over to the rectory and gave her body to him. “It felt like a privilege.”

  “That’s what it felt like to me,” Nico said. “When you needed me last night? A privilege. An honor.”

  “What are you saying, Nico?” Nora asked.

  “I need you.”

  He touched her face, her lips.

  “I need you,” he said again. “You’re everything I ever dreamed of in one woman. My Rosanella. Beautiful, graceful, intelligent, fearless, and yet you trembled in my arms during the storm and then you drank me from a wineglass. You owned me last night with everything you did to me and everything you let me do to you. No one on this earth deserves to have everything they desire. No one is entitled to have what he wants. But if I were to have what I wanted, I would need you to give it to me. Because it’s you, Mistress Nora.”

  Nora couldn’t look at Nico. Hearing him call her Mistress Nora was like hearing Søren call her “Little One” for the first time, like learning her real name. After she’d told Nico who his father was, he’d asked her for Kingsley’s last name. “Nicholas Boissonneault,” he’d said, his eyes shining with unshed tears as he tried out his new name. It hurt to learn who he was. It hurt her, too, but for a different reason.

  “Go to sleep, my love.” She kissed him on the forehead. “It’s an order. You have a long drive back.”

  “What will you do?”

  “I don’t know yet,” she said. “But I’ll be okay. I always am.”

  Nico’s eyelashes fluttered and in minutes his breathing settled into the deep rhythms of sleep. She gazed down at him, at this beautiful young man in her bed with callouses on his hands from the hard work he did every day. She’d never loved a man with calloused hands before. She had callouses, however. The callous on her finger from so much writing. The callous on her heart from so much loving.

  She dragged herself from the bed and found her nightgown. She pulled a book from her suitcase and took it downstairs with her.

  After building up the fire again, she curled into a chair. Carefully so as not to let any papers fall out, she opened her Bible.

  More and more lately she found herself turning to this book for comfort and guidance. Queen Esther still enchanted her, as did Ruth and her threshing floor seduction of Boaz. The Psalms brought her solace—“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” King David and King Solomon spoke to her from ages past—two adulterers who found their way into the lineage of Christ. And how she loved Isaiah and the words that had become so much more meaningful to her of late—“For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given.”

  But it wasn’t the words of the Bible that she turned to in this last hour of night. From its pages she pulled a photograph, a child barely a year old with his mother’s turquoise eyes and his father’s blond hair.

  She stared at the photograph of Fionn in her hand. In it her editor, Zach, held his son on his shoulder. The first time she’d held the boy in her own arms, the sudden depth of love she had for him had shaken her like fear. She’d trembled so hard she had to give him back to Grace almost immediately.

  “If anyone ever tries to hurt that boy I will burn their world down,” she’d said to Zach. “But please never ask me to babysit.”

  Zach had laughed and pulled her into a tender embrace, not caring that his wife stood five feet away watching and rolling her eyes at the both of them. They were long past jealousy and shared only joy among them all.

  “Born to be a soldier, not a politician,” Zach had teased her, then kissed her quick on the lips.

  “What do you mean?” she’d asked.

  Zach had looked into her eyes and smiled.

  “Love the risk, hate the responsibility.”

  She hadn’t argued. Zach knew her all too well by now.

  Nora studied the boy in the photograph. She’d shown the picture to Nico once after showing him a picture of his newly acquired half sister Céleste.

  “My godson,” she’d said with pride.

  “He doesn’t take after his father,” Nico had said, noting Zach’s black hair and Fionn’s blond locks.

  “He does actually,” she’d said with a secret smile. “So let’s pray he gets his personality from his mother.”

  She needed to look at Fionn’s picture right now. That little face of his with those wide, watching eyes consoled her more than any words of any song or psalm or prayer could right now. Death had come to her house and stolen a precious thing from her. But life had won this round. Fionn was her victory banner.

  Knowing that he lived, that a new generation had already come into the world to fill the shoes of the lost, Nora could now look at the silver box on the mantel without denial or fear or regret. One death. One life. And so it would go until death died.

  Nora closed her Bible, held it to her chest and for a while she dozed in the chair. She woke a few hours later, shivering from cold. Her fire had died again. She set her Bible aside and returned upstairs.

  Standing by the bed, she watched Nico sleeping. What did vintners on the Mediterranean Sea dream of—the wine or the water? Did he dream of her? She’d never met a man like Nico, a man at complete and utter peace with himself. He loved older women, sexual submission, his wine and his work. He made no apologies and offered no explanations for any of it. He had never battled with demons. He’d never wrestled with angels. He stood upon the earth immune to hell’s seductions, untroubled by heaven’s demands.

  Nico should have hated her, after all. Only last year the man he knew as his father had died. And when she’d come bearing the news another man had sired him, it was, as he said, like losing his beloved father a second time.

  But he didn’t hate her, although he’d grieved and she’d grieved with him. Instead he’d thanked her for telling her the truth about his birth and the half sister he loved the moment he learned her name. It comforted Nico to know that another man had tempted his mother, seduced her even, but she’d chosen her husband in the end. Kingsley had been grateful to Nora, as well. He’d wanted children as long as he could remember and soon after bein
g blessed with a daughter, he learned he had a son.

  “Thank you for my son,” Kingsley had said when she’d told him of Nico, told him she’d met his son and the young man was everything a father could wish for and more. Kingsley’s voice, usually so suave and measured, had been hoarse with his gratitude and grief for the lost years. “Thank you for finding him.”

  Thank you for finding him. She heard those words even now in her ears. She had searched for him and sought for him and found him, and now here he was before her in the bed they’d shared. And in a few hours he would leave her.

  Nora reached out and touched Nico’s lips. Nico, who she and no one else had found.

  “Finders keepers …”

  Nico stirred in his sleep. His eyes opened. She knelt by his shoulder and lowered her nightgown to her waist. Leaning over him she brought her breast to his mouth. He latched on to her nipple and she sighed as the pleasure rose up in her and pushed back the sadness. The dead felt nothing. That she could feel the scrape of his teeth, the heat of his breath on her skin, the gentle tug of his mouth, was all the proof she needed that she lived.

  She shifted to give him her other breast as his hands roamed over her arms and down her back. Nico dragged her closer and grasped the fabric of her gown, pulling it up and off her completely. For the first time she was naked with him, completely and utterly naked.

  “I need you,” she said into his ear.

  “Then take me.”

  She took him in her hand and guided him inside her. With her hands on his chest, she rode him. He gripped her hips as her inner muscles clamped onto his thick inches that penetrated to her core.

  She leaned in and kissed him on the mouth, spiraling her hips to work him deeper into her. She stayed low over him, her hands braced on either side of his head, pushing against him until he gasped and arched underneath her.

  Nora lightly gripped his bare neck, not to hurt him or even hold him, but simply to touch the most vulnerable part of him at his most defenseless. Her nipples grazed his chest as she moved on him, grinding her clitoris into the base of his shaft and forcefully clenching herself around him. When she couldn’t hold back anymore, she came. Her vagina fluttered with deep contractions as Nico exhaled her name. He came then, too, pouring into her, filling her with his wet heat.

  Panting, Nora collapsed onto Nico’s chest. He held her close, held her tight. She should have been at peace now, but she wasn’t. It wasn’t enough to fuck him or let him fuck her. She wanted to possess him—every part of him. She wanted to own his heart, his body, his cock, his semen, his soul, even his life. But she couldn’t ask that of him, could she?

  “You have to go soon, don’t you?” Nora asked, once they’d both caught their breaths.

  “It’s a long drive back, but I’ll stay until you tell me to go.”

  She never wanted to tell him he could go. But she knew his vines waited for him and she cared about him too much to keep him from the land and the work that was his raison d’être.

  “I think I’m ready now,” she said.

  “I’ll come with you,” he whispered. He knew what she needed and offered first, saving her the indignity of having to ask for it.

  They rose from bed and bathed together. Nico put on yesterday’s clothes—he’d brought no others with him. She wore a simple white skirt and sweater.

  Nico took the urn off the fireplace mantel and put it in her hands. He held the door open for her and side by side they walked the stone path toward the lake. The sun had risen and God had given them a perfect spring morning—cloudless and cold.

  They reached the water’s edge and Nora stood so that the lake lapped at her toes.

  “I prepared a speech on the plane ride over,” she told Nico. “Seems stupid now. I tried to say it yesterday and could only get one word out.”

  “Say it now. I want to hear it.”

  She swallowed and nodded. Then she began.

  “Søren …” She paused and let the pain claw at her. The dead felt no pleasure, but they felt no pain, either. Pain, too, was proof of life. “Søren isn’t here. I know you wouldn’t want him here so I didn’t ask him to come with me.”

  She stopped again, breathed again.

  “You should take that as a sign of how much I love you, that I didn’t ask him to come with me.”

  Another breath.

  “You never should have hated him. I think I hated you a little because of how much you hated him. But that was unfair of me, and I’m sorry. After all, you’re the reason we’re together. If you hadn’t made me go to church that day, practically tricked me into going to church that day, I would never have met him. But you know what’s funny about you and him?”

  Nora closed her eyes. A tear escaped and dropped into the water at her feet.

  “I still remember on the way to church that morning, you asked a question. You said, ‘All I ever wanted was a daughter who loves God, goes to church, respects her priest and maybe even respects her mother a little. You think that’s too much to ask?’ Well, Mom, I go to church every Sunday. Did you know that? And I not only respect my priest, I love him with all my heart. And I do respect my mother, too. More than a little. She put up with me for thirty-six years. I think you probably qualify for sainthood at this point.”

  Nico stepped forward and with his bare hands wiped the tears off her face.

  She looked into his pale green eyes.

  “She thanked me, you know,” Nora said. “The mother superior of her order called me two weeks ago and said, ‘Come now if you want to see your mother this side of heaven.’ I left immediately. Got there just in time. She was already going in and out of consciousness. But she woke up enough to recognize me. That’s when she thanked me.”

  “For what? For coming?”

  “For being a bad daughter,” Nora said, laughing. “Mom smoked until I was eleven years old. She caught me trying to smoke one of her cigarettes. That’s when she quit. That might have given her a few extra years, quitting. By the time they found the cancer, it had spread all over her. She didn’t even have any symptoms. Only a cough.”

  “Be grateful you had those few hours. My father dropped dead in the fields.”

  “What would you say to him if you could say anything?” she asked.

  “Blood might be thicker than water, but wine is thicker than blood,” Nico said.

  It was over a cup of communion wine that she’d first looked into her Father’s eyes.

  “That is it,” she said.

  She turned back to the water before her—the expanse of lake so clear and blue and cold. She wished the water weren’t so cold.

  “A nun for a mother. A priest for a lover. Søren, now I can hear God laughing at me.”

  “He’s laughing at me, too,” Nico said. They both knew why.

  “I wish we could have found a way to be friends,” she said as if her mother could hear her. “I wish we could have known each other better. But you never told me your story. I wish you had listened to mine. If you’d heard the story I told Nico last night you would know that Søren was the best thing that ever happened to me, that he wasn’t the monster you wanted to believe he was. I am glad I left him, though, ten years ago. At least you and I got to spend a little time together.”

  She stopped once more to breathe. Why was it so hard to breathe?

  “You probably thought I was angry at you all this time,” Nora continued. “And that’s why I stayed away from you. But the truth was I wasn’t angry. I’d worked so hard to become another person and the minute we were together, I was Ellie, your disappointment of a daughter again. I hope the view is good from where you are right now, and you can look down and see that my life is beautiful and rich and full of the love of generous and noble people and that my days are filled with work that is fulfilling and worthwhile and my nights are even better and none of your business.”

  Nico laughed softly next to her. She wished she could take his hand, but the box weighed her down. She would let
it weigh her down no longer.

  “I hope you see, too, that I do love you, and I did love you all this time, even when we were apart. And I will see you again someday, because even though your heart led you down a different road than mine, we will eventually reach the same destination.”

  She knelt at the water and opened the silver box that contained her mother’s precious ashes.

  Gingerly she lowered the box into the water and let it sink to the bottom. The ashes of Margaret Delores Kohl, of Sister Mary John, of Nora’s mother, rose up and spread through the water like a pale cloud.

  “I love you, Momma.”

  It took everything she had to say, but she said it and she said it smiling.

  She unclasped the saint medal she’d worn for a week now.

  “Every saint medal I own Søren gave me. Every one but this one.”

 
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