The siren, p.55
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       The Siren, p.55

         Part #1 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 
Page 55

  Author: Tiffany Reisz

  Nora’s heart beat heavy in her chest. Søren’s love never ceased to humble her.

  “I’m as flawed as it gets. ”

  “You are human. And that is the better part of your beauty. But you always knew your editor longed for his wife more than anything. This can’t be a surprise to you. What else?”

  Nora was afraid he’d ask her that. But Søren had been her father confessor for eighteen years. Now she needed his absolution more than ever.

  “Last Sunday…Wesley and I almost made love. ”

  “You have been busy, haven’t you? Why only ‘almost’?”

  “He stopped first, and then I stopped it all. Søren…” she said in a hoarse half whisper, “I broke the rule—I think I harmed him. ”

  “Little one. ” Søren cupped the side of her face. “I’m so sorry. ”

  “I have to make him go, don’t I?”

  “For his own good, yes. That, I’m afraid, was inevitable, as well. ”

  Nora nodded, feeling none of the anger she usually experienced when Søren proved himself insufferably right as he always did.

  Søren laid two fingers on her temple. He traced the line of her face from her forehead to her lips.

  “You always knew Zachary loved his wife. Yes?”

  “Yes. ” She remembered the ghost of Grace that haunted his eyes from the day they met. “I knew…at the back of my mind, the back of my heart. ”

  “Where you love Wesley, yes?”

  “Yes. ”

  “And me?” he asked, his voice soft and earnest in that way it so rarely was with her these days. “Where do you love me?”

  Nora did not hesitate before answering. She closed her eyes and whispered, “Everywhere else. ”

  Søren looked at her as if he’d already known that would be her answer, as if for all eternity it would be her answer. Perhaps it would, she thought.

  “Come to my office,” Søren said. “We can talk about it. ”

  Nora smiled. “Your office. I remember when you’d make me cocoa and help me with my math homework on that bench right outside your office. ”

  “I always knew when you were working on your math homework. The litany of profanities echoing through the halls was always an excellent indicator. Shall we? I’ll see what’s in the cupboard. ”

  He held out his hand and Nora reached into her pocket. She laid her collar on his waiting palm.

  “I didn’t come here for the cocoa. ” Nora met his eyes. For perhaps only the second time in eighteen years, she saw she’d surprised him.

  Søren said nothing, merely closed his fingers around her collar. She’d seen those same fingers wrapped around his rosary a thousand times. He held her collar with the same love, the same devotion, the same grim determination to make heaven bend to his ear.

  Without a word, Søren turned on his heel.

  Nora followed him through the sanctuary and through door after door. A final door opened to a shadowy tree-shrouded pathway that led from the church to the rectory. How many times had she furtively stolen from the church to his home? A million times, she thought. A million was still not enough.

  Secluded by a copse of old-world elms and oaks, Søren’s rectory stood graceful and quiet in the sheltered sanctuary created by the trees. A small two-story Gothic cottage, it afforded him both beauty and privacy—two very precious commodities.

  Nora waited in submissive silence as Søren built a fire in the living-room fireplace. Glancing around, Nora saw the secret signs of their long association: the Bösendorfer piano she’d given him as a gift last December 21 for his forty-sixth birthday, the tassel of an embroidered bookmark she’d made for him at church camp the summer she turned sixteen peeking out from a volume of John Donne poetry, a lock on the bottom door of a cabinet under one of the bookcases. Only she and he knew what he kept behind that lock. And on the fireplace mantel were ten slight scratches in the wood left by her desperate fingernails on a night he had shown her no mercy. She knew she might add another ten there tonight.

  Søren came to her and gazed down at her face. She kept her eyes respectfully lowered. It had been the first submissive act he’d taught her.

  “Why are you here?” he asked.

  “To give myself to you, sir. ”

  “You wish to be mine again?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Completely?”

  “And utterly, sir,” she said. “Without conditions or constraints. ” The words came so easily to her she knew they must be true. Coming back felt as easy as falling, as simple as death.

  “You weren’t mine last night, were you?” Søren demanded and Nora blushed.

  “No, sir,” she whispered.

  “You were with your editor last night. Yes?”

  “Yes. ”

  “And did you do as I told you? Did you make him hurt you?”

  “Yes, sir. ”

  From the corner of her eye she saw him raise his eyebrow at her in clear skepticism.

  “Show me. ”

  Nora held out her hands and displayed her wrists, the purple bruises on her skin.

  “He held you down,” Søren said. “Your arms were over your head. ”

  “Yes,” Nora said, amazed how Søren could read that simply from the angle of the marks.

  “What else?”

  Nora unbuttoned her blouse and let it fall to the floor. She unzipped her skirt and stepped out of it. Without shame or fear she shed all her underclothes, as well. She stood naked before Søren and waited. He studied her body with appraising eyes. Stepping behind her, he raised her hair off her back.

  “He bit your shoulder, I see. Several times. He took you from behind. ”

  “Yes, sir. ”

  “Anal?”

  “Once. ”

  Søren moved to her front again. He reached down and slipped his hand behind her knee. He raised her leg, inspecting the inside of her thigh with the perfunctory expertise of a judge at a dog show.

  “Finger marks,” he said, releasing her leg. “And knees. You fought him. ”

  “I made him work for it. ”

  “Did you?”

  “Yes, sir. ”

  “Will you fight me tonight?”

  “No, sir. Not now or ever again. ”

  Søren said nothing as he continued to study her naked body.

  “A few bite marks, a few bruises…I’m afraid your Zachary is something of an amateur in the art of pain. Isn’t he? Not like us. ”

  The vicious slap landed across her cheek with such speed that Nora gasped as much from the shock of it as she did the pain. She inhaled and tasted blood in the back of her throat. She swallowed it and met Søren’s eyes.

  “No, not like us…sir. ”

  Søren smiled and snapped his fingers. Without a moment’s hesitation she dropped hard to her knees. He wrapped her collar around her throat and buckled it at the base of her neck. She breathed into its grip; let it hold her throat like a hand.

  Nora heard the air divide in half and she braced herself for the blow.

  How easily you forgive, Eleanor. How freely you absolve the sins of others. Tell me, little one, when the time comes, how will you absolve yours?

  With the first lash of the whip Nora felt a strip of fire burn across her back. She cried out from a pain so ferocious she nearly choked on it.

  Like this, Søren, she dared answer only in her mind. This is how.

  * * *

  Yawning, Zach stumbled into his flat. He’d spent all night with Grace at her hotel talking it out. In all his life he’d never been so grateful for a sleepless night. He glanced at the clock on the wall—10:38 a. m. He smiled at the clock. He’d missed his flight to L. A.

  He’d already called J. P. and told him he needed some time to decide what to do next. Thankfully, J. P. didn’t seem the least surprised. Zach had gone with Grace to JFK a
nd seen her off. She’d kissed him goodbye, something she hadn’t done when he’d left almost eight months ago. He floated home on that kiss and curled up with it on the couch. He would sleep first, catch an hour or two then call Nora. He didn’t know what to say. But he knew she would understand.

  Before he could close his eyes the phone rang. Zach grabbed at it, nearly dropping it in the process of trying to answer it.

  “Yes? Hello?”

  “Zach, it’s me. Wes. ”

  “Wesley, what is it?” Zach asked, coming fully alert again at the sheer panic in the boy’s voice.

  “I’m at the hospital. I had to bring Nora in. ”

  “My God, what happened?”

  Zach heard Wesley cough like he was gagging on something. But it only took one word to explain all.

  “Søren. ”

  * * *

  The ride to the hospital was nearly as torturous as the ride to Grace’s hotel had been the day before. Zach found the emergency ward where Wesley said they took Nora. He stood in the middle of the vast antiseptic room prepared to do battle with any doctor or nurse who dared ask him to leave. He wasn’t sure exactly where Nora was, what curtain to look behind. He listened, hoping to hear her voice or even her tears, anything to lead him to her. Instead, he heard her laugh.

  Zach followed her fading laughter and heard the low rumble of a man’s voice. After a moment a man in a dark blue suit emerged. Zach saw a flash of gleaming metal on his belt. After a quick, steadying breath, Zach slipped through the curtain.

  “Good Lord, Nora,” he said as he took in the bruised and bandaged sight before him.

  “Hey, Zach. What the hell are you doing here?”

  “Wesley called me in hysterics. I can see why. ”

  “He overreacted. Nearly dragged me here kicking and screaming. He thought it was a broken rib, but it’s just bruised. Seriously, it’s not that bad. ” She adjusted the pillow behind her.

  Not that bad? Her cheek was purpled and her bottom lip was cracked and swollen. He saw red welts on both wrists and even around her neck.

  “A bruised rib? You must be joking. ”

  “That was my fault, though. I flinched wrong. I’m a bit out of practice. This stuff just goes with the territory. No big deal. ”

  “No big deal? That was a police officer, wasn’t it?”

  Nora flashed him her old arrogant smile, a smile undiminished by the fissure of blood on her lip. “That’s Detective Cooper, my friend on the force. He works with the community, keeps us out of trouble. ”

  “You’re a madwoman, Nora. Why did you do this?”

  Nora gave a cold, hollow laugh, grimacing as the movement seemed to hurt her.

  “Remember that day in my kitchen,” she said, pausing to catch her breath. “That first day we were working on my book. You asked me what Wes’s story was. ”

  “Yes, I recall. Why?”

  “I told you I’d put the first randy bitch who laid a hand on him in the hospital. Turns out it was me. Hey, never let it be said I can’t keep a promise. ”

  “Nora…you will be the death of me,” Zach said, wanting to laugh, too, but finding it utterly impossible.

  “You keep saying that. And yet you’re still alive. What the hell are you doing here anyway? Where’s Grace?”

  “I dropped her off at the airport. ”

  “You let her leave without you? Are you insane?”

  “I can’t just bloody go—”

  “Yes, you bloody well can,” Nora countered. “Just go. Don’t pack your toothbrush. Don’t call work. Just get on a goddamn plane and go get your wife back. For good this time. ”

  Zach stared at the tiles on the floor. His eyes followed the spots of black and white, letting them swirl together and become gray.

  “Go, Zach. You have no idea how much I want to keep you here. Selflessness is not in my nature. Go before I change my mind. ”
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