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The Siren, Page 34

Tiffany Reisz

Page 34

  Author: Tiffany Reisz

  Zach turned and looked at Søren in shocked sympathy. His distrust of the man wavered.

  “I’m sorry,” he said with sincerity. “That must have been traumatic. For you and her. ”

  “It was. ”

  “May I ask how old you were when it happened?” Zach asked, trying to find the origin of Søren’s violent sexual proclivities.

  “It happened roughly nine months before I was born. But that is neither here nor there. You seem uncomfortable with women fully owning their sexuality. ”

  “That isn’t true. Women have as much right to their bodies and desires as men. Nora accuses me of being a stuffy Englishman and she isn’t far off the mark. But I am no prude. ”

  “You say that and yet the thought of a woman allowing herself to be violated appalls you. ”

  “Of course it does. There are limits to what’s healthy. ”

  “Healthy…interesting word choice. Are you much familiar with the disease leprosy?”

  Zach furrowed his brow at the odd question.

  “No more so than the next man, I suppose. ”

  “I mention it for a reason. ” Søren began to make a slow circuit of the room. “During my summers at seminary I worked in a leprosy camp in India. There is a disturbing amount of misinformation about the disease. The idea that it is the disease that infects the limbs and causes them to rot and fall off? Pure myth. Leprosy, Hansen’s disease as it should be called, is a disease of the nerves. It destroys the nerves that experience pain. And once the ability to feel pain is gone, then it is a simple matter to burn the hand off while cooking dinner over an open fire, or to step on a small nail and not realize it until a doctor pulls it from a festering wound a week later. There were mornings,” Søren said as he took a whip from its hook on the wall and examined it, “I awoke to the sound of screams. Without the capacity for pain it is all too easy to slumber in peace as a rat chews off your fingers in the night. ”

  “Pain is a necessary evil,” Zach said, fighting off the chills produced by Søren’s hypnotic speech. “But still an evil. ”

  “Pain is a gift from God. It imparts understanding, wisdom. Pain is life. And here we give pain as freely as we give pleasure. ”

  Zach watched Søren’s hand as he gripped the handle of the whip and coiled it neatly. Every movement the priest made was precise, his fingers as deft as an artist’s, his muscles lean and taut as a dancer. And on his face he wore an expression of quiet peace, of intelligent disinterest. A true believer, Zach could tell. But a believer in what? Words from Paradise Lost came to Zach’s mind—“Better to reign in hell than serve in Heaven. ” Somehow, Zach realized, Nora’s priest had found a way to do both.

  “If pain is a sign of love,” Zach said as Søren hung the whip on the wall once more, “then I must love a great deal. ” He thought of Grace now, wondered what she would say if she knew where he was, what he was doing.

  Søren’s eyes found his and the look he gave Zach was one of the most profound compassion.

  “I am certain that you do. ”

  Zach held the priest’s gaze as long as he could, but the moment grew too intimate and Zach turned away. A good priest, Griffin had called Søren. He was certainly adept at inspiring confessions.

  A mural adorned the fourth wall of the room. Zach picked up the oil lamp and threw light against the familiar monster on the wall.

  “The lesson of the Jabberwocky,” Zach said, studying its line and angles. Søren came to stand at his side. “I saw a book at Nora’s. The Jabberwocky. You, I presume it was you, wrote, ‘Never forget the lesson of the Jabberwocky’ inside it. But it’s a nonsense poem. It has no lesson. ”

  “But it does,” Søren countered. “A handsome prince fights a terrible, beautiful dragon and slays him then carries the head home strapped to his saddle. The lesson is obvious. When one is a monster, one does well to beware knights in shining armor. A good lesson for Eleanor. ”

  Zach heard the meaning behind Søren’s words. “Nora is not a monster. She’s not perfect obviously. But she’s a good person, and to call her a monster is ridiculous. ”

  “You know her that well, do you?” Søren asked, turning to face him full-on. “Before tonight she scared you, didn’t she? Her fearlessness, her brazenness, I’m sure it’s terrifying at first. Foreign to those who lead the proverbial life of quiet desperation as I imagine you do. She scared you with the sheer force of her life and being. But now you look around and think her courage is merely a byproduct of her damage. You imagine I abused her, changed her. And you would save her, as Wesley imagines he can? You would be her knight in shining armor? Yes, before you feared her and now you pity her. I assure you, Zachary, you were right the first time. ”

  * * *

  This was her favorite part.

  Nora ordered Michael to lie on his back in the middle of the bed. She pulled out from under the bed a silver spreader bar. She laid the bar, a length of rope and a pair of scissors on the bed next to Michael’s hip. She lit three candles and let them burn on the table next to the bed.

  “Don’t be scared, angel,” she said. “You are completely safe here. You have your safe word. You can stop this at any time. You don’t have to do anything but lie there and take what I give you. Do you understand?”

  Michael eyed the scissors warily. He took a deep breath.

  “Yes, mistress. I understand. ”

  Nora took two snap hooks and locked Michael’s ankles to each end of the bar. She threaded rope through the buckle on his ankle cuffs, tied the cuff to the bedpost and neatly snipped off the excess rope. She came to the head of the bed and took each of Michael’s wrists in her hands. She spread him out like an X and tied him down. He could move neither his hands nor his feet. She bent and bit the soft skin above his wrist—a shiver passed through his body. His eyes looked to the ceiling and stared placidly at nothing. Nora knew that look, had worn it herself a thousand nights in Søren’s bed.

  “Michael, stay with me. ”

  “I’m here. ” His eyes focused again on her face. She knew how easy it was to disappear into the moment. But she wanted him to remember it, to be with her every step of the way.

  “Good boy. How do you feel?”

  Michael tugged on his bonds but not in a struggle. He seemed simply to take pleasure in their existence.

  “Free,” he said and she knew exactly what he meant.

  Nora slipped off the bed and unzipped her skirt and let it fall to the floor. She crawled back onto the bed and sat next to Michael’s hips. She ran her hands over his skin…smooth and cool to the touch. She caressed his face, stroked his arms and lingered along his inner thighs.

  Finally, when it seemed he could wait no longer, she straddled his hips, took him in her hand and guided him inside her.

  Michael arched underneath her as she wrapped herself around him. She watched as his eyes closed in shocked wonder and opened again darkened with knowledge. He gasped as she pushed and clenched her muscles tight around him. She bent over, dipping her mouth to his, his lips eager and artless and tasting of snow. She remembered the last kiss Søren gave her before he penetrated her the first time. Such pleasure coupled with such pain…the pain, like the flash of a camera, rendering the moment forever fixed in her mind. Michael would remember this moment, too. She would make sure of it.

  She pushed against him again and let herself enjoy his body inside hers. Closing her eyes for a moment, she imagined someone else under her, inside her, someone with blond hair instead of black, someone with brown eyes instead of silver…Nora felt her climax start to build and she pushed it back and opened her eyes.

  Rising up, she reached for the candle burning beside the bed. She brought it to her carefully, not letting any of the wax drop. Michael’s eyes followed the glowing wick as Nora held it over the center of his panting chest.

  “And now how do you feel?” she asked, ro
cking her hips to evoke another gasp.

  Michael turned his gaze from the candle to her face. He wore an expression of fearful trust, of trusting fear.

  “Safe,” he said.

  Nora smiled down at him and let the scalding wax fall.

  * * *

  Søren doused Nora’s oil lamp and shut the door behind them. Zach followed Nora’s priest down another set of stairs and hallways. He stopped in front of one of the doors but did not move to open it. They faced each other across an invisible threshold.

  “Why did you bring me down here?” Zach asked.

  “I thought you needed to see what Eleanor is. You thought you knew her until tonight. ”

  “I do know her. ”

  “No, you merely think you know her. It’s one of her best tricks. She flirts, she teases, she confesses everything but reveals nothing. It’s the oldest magician’s trick—smoke and mirrors, misdirection. You are absolutely certain she’s here—” Søren snapped his fingers at Zach’s right ear “—when all the while she’s right over here. ”

  Zach looked at Søren’s right hand and saw the priest holding up his wallet.

  “Nice trick. ” Zach snatched his wallet and shoved it back into his pocket. “But I think I know Nora better than that. ”

  “Do you really? Tell me, what do you think her darkest secret is?”

  “You,” Zach answered. “She was once lovers with a Catholic priest. I know that now and I couldn’t care less. ”

  “Me? Her darkest secret? Hardly. She keeps me a secret for my sake, not hers. ”

  “We’ve all done things we’re ashamed of. Everyone has a past. ”

  “Eleanor has a past, yes. But she has a present, too. ”

  Zach took a step forward and with more courage than he knew he had within him stared Nora’s priest down.

  “You’re jealous,” Zach said.

  “Am I?” The idea seemed to amuse him.

  “Yes, because she’s found a life outside of you and away from here. She told me you want her back. But she won’t come back. She loved you once. But now you’re just a game she’s tired of playing. ”

  “I assure you the game has only begun. ”

  Zach didn’t back down.

  “This game you’re playing with me is over. Show me anything you want to show me. Tell me all the horror stories you’ve got. But I know what Nora Sutherlin is. ”

  “Do you? What is she?”

  “A writer. ”

  “Yes, she certainly is. And a very talented one. But a writer is not all she is, Zachary. ”

  “I don’t care about her private life. Whatever you say, she’s no monster. ”

  Søren sighed and Zach saw something unexpected in the man’s eyes, something like sympathy.

  “No, you are right. She is no monster,” Søren said, turning his attention to the door. Zach followed the priest’s gaze. Unlike all the others the knob on this door was painted white and from it hung a familiar-looking riding crop—black with white braiding. And from within the room came a faint sound, a whimper of pain both poignant and plaintive like the cry of a child. Zach found Søren’s eyes on him. “But she is no saint, either. ”


  Zach heaved a sigh of relief when they returned to the bar at the end of his tour of the 8th Circle. Søren led him to a table elevated on a platform at the corner of the room farthest from the balcony. Clearly it was the best table in the house and reserved for Søren alone. When he and Zach took their seats, a small army of attendants, Griffin included, rushed the table to serve them.

  “Care for a drink?” Søren asked as he reached out to casually stroke the hair and collared neck of the lovely young woman who waited at his feet.