“IT WAS A dark and stormy night,” Nora said as she came to stand next to Søren at the window. She gazed out on the summer storm tearing up the Scottish sky.
“Please tell me that isn’t the first line to your next book.”
“Oh, but it’s such a good first line. Classic even.” She tucked her hand into his and watched the light show with him. Wind and rain lashed the trees and the moors. A flash of lightning set the night afire for a split second and the hills revealed their colors before fading into black again. “How about this—‘It was a dark and stormy night in the castle, and a woman named Nora was determined to seduce her priest.’”
Søren smiled slightly.
“An improvement. A minor improvement.”
“Everyone’s a critic.” Nora squeezed his hand, and he lifted it to his lips for a kiss. He’d arrived this morning but she’d been so busy with her work here that they hadn’t had more than five minutes together. At last the day was done, her work was over until tomorrow, and they could hold hands and simply be.
“Do I want to know what you’re thinking?” Nora asked him.
“Merely watching the storm,” he said, but she could tell he had something on his mind, on his heart. They both did.
Tomorrow was the big day... Everything between her and Søren would change tomorrow. It was happening finally and there was no going back.
“Are you nervous about tomorrow?” she asked.
“Should I be?”
“I am,” she admitted. “Big day for us.”
“I’m at peace,” he said. “Although I will admit the peace is hard-won.”
“We’ve waited a long time to do this.”
“It’s time now,” he said. “We’ve waited long enough.”
A clap of thunder interrupted their conversation and together they peered into the storm outside the oriel window.
“What are you thinking?” Nora asked.
“Thinking about Job, chapter thirty-eight,” he said. “It’s every priest’s dream to have God come and speak to him face-to-face. Even if it is to tell him how little he knows about the world. Storms always remind me of those verses. God says, ‘Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?’”
Nora looked up at the sky. “‘Can you raise your voice to the clouds / and cover yourself with a flood of water? / Do you send lightning bolts on their way? / Do they report to you / Here we are.’”
“It’s comforting to know God is so powerful. Comforting to know we aren’t,” Søren said.
Perhaps only a priest could find comfort in his powerlessness. Perhaps only Søren.
“Are you coming to bed?” she asked Søren.
“Not yet. I won’t be ready to sleep for hours.”
In Scotland, it was nine-thirty. In New Orleans, where they’d been living for the past two years, it was half past three in the afternoon.
“Who said anything about sleeping?” she asked.
Søren arched his eyebrow.
“Well, in that case...” Søren turned from the window and cupped her face with his hands. He kissed her on the lips, softly at first, a slight kiss meant to arouse and torment. Ever so slowly he deepened the kiss. As much as she wanted to, Nora didn’t rush the moment. She’d been away from him for five weeks—four weeks spent with Nico at his vineyard and another week here in Scotland making the final preparations for tomorrow. Leaving Søren for any extended period of time was much like this kiss—a torture and a tease. Being away from him hurt, always. But the reunion at the end of the separation made every second apart worth the price.
He took her hands in his and brought them up and around his neck. His arms encircled her back and he drew her to him, deepening the kiss. The heat of his body warmed her to the core. She kissed his lips, his chin, his ear and his neck. He’d abandoned his collar for traveling and tonight wore only black trousers, black jacket and a white button-down shirt open at the neck. She pressed her lips into the hollow of his throat, a hollow made for her kisses.
And the moment when the kiss was perfect, everything she wanted and needed from him, she heard from behind her a small cough.
“God fucking dammit.” Nora growled the words, and dropped her head to the center of Søren’s chest.
“Eleanor, you’re scaring the waitstaff,” Søren said.
She turned and faced the interrupter, a young woman holding a bouquet of flowers. Her name might be Bonnie, or maybe she was just “bonnie” in the Scottish sense of pretty. Nora didn’t know and didn’t care.
“Miss, you’ve signed the nondisclosure agreement, haven’t you?” Nora asked. Kingsley was treating tomorrow like a celebrity wedding with ironclad nondisclosure agreements for everyone even remotely involved. Even she’d had to sign one.
“Yes, ma’am?” The girl made everything she said into a question.
“Good. This man is a Catholic priest. We’ve been sleeping together since I was twenty. I’m sure you can imagine it’s not easy being the mistress of a Catholic priest. We don’t get to spend nearly the amount of time together we’d like to. In fact, I haven’t seen him in five weeks. Admittedly that’s because I was sleeping with someone else most of the time, but that’s neither here nor there. As you can see, my priest here is possibly the most handsome man in the world, although I am admittedly biased. He’s also kinky, well-hung and you’ve just interrupted the kiss I’ve been waiting for all day. So please tell me this interruption is more important than that kiss was.”
“Your dress is here. We hung it in your room. You told me to tell you when it arrived and to interrupt you no matter what you were doing even if you were, as you said, ‘blowing the pope.’ Also, these arrived for you earlier today. They were accidentally put away with the wedding flowers,” the girl said, passing the bouquet to Nora.
“Oh.” Nora tapped her foot on the stone floor. “How nice.”
“Eleanor...” Søren made her name into a threat.
“And sorry about the, you know, well-hung priest rant there,” Nora said. “Pre-wedding jitters.”
“It’s fine, ma’am,” the girl who was either bonnie or Bonnie said. “If he was kissing me, I’d be bloody pissed off to be interrupted, too. Catholic priest?”
“No comment,” Søren said.
“We had a priest like you when I was a girl,” she said. “We called him Father What-A-Waste. Glad you’re not going to waste.”
The girl bobbed a slightly sarcastic curtsy and sauntered off.
“Is it weird I kind of want to fuck her now?” Nora asked. “Castles makes me so horny.”
“Yes, sir?” She turned back to face him.
“Who are your flowers from?”
“No idea,” she said. She looked through the small but exquisite posy of white roses, pink hydrangeas and green Cymbidium orchids until she found the small ivory card. She opened it up and read aloud,
I’m sorry I have to miss your wedding tomorrow but I never attend weddings where I’m not allowed to kiss the bride. Think of me during the ceremony—and on the wedding night. Love, Your Nico”
“Very kind of him,” Søren said, smiling.
“He’s a smart-ass like his father,” Nora said. She tucked the card back into the envelope. “Now, where were we?”
“Here, I think,” Søren said as he brought his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. He dropped gentle but hungry kisses along her neck.
“Oh yes, that’s where we were.”
“It’s been too long since I’ve had the pleasure of beating you and putting you in your place.” He whispered the words in her ear,
and she shivered. “Do you even remember your place?”
“Underneath you, my sir,” she said. “Or wherever you tell me it is.”
“Very good answer.”
He tapped her under the chin and she smiled. She did so love to please him. Collaring Nico two years ago and making him her property had been the best thing she could have done for her relationship with Søren. At the time she and Nico became lovers, she’d been running on pure instinct and grief and need. She’d gone to Nico searching for something she was missing and found it with him. Once she had a submissive of her own, her own personal property collared and owned, she fully grasped Søren’s love for her. Owning Nico had filled up a void in her that not even Søren’s love—boundless as it was—could fill. She hadn’t cleaned up her act, hadn’t reformed. She hadn’t turned over a new leaf. Nora Sutherlin did not turn over leaves—new or otherwise. But for the past two years she’d had only two lovers—Søren and Nico—and wanted and needed no one else in her bed or her heart. It might be the closest she would ever get to monogamy.
Kingsley was already taking bets on how long it would last.
Søren took her by the hand and led her down the long ancient hallway. Portraits of noble Scotsmen, dead for centuries, followed their progress as they walked the faded crimson carpet and took a set of stone stairs to the next floor. Lightning created mad shadows in the castle. A suit of armor seemed to move with one flash of light. A portrait of a young noblewoman with pre-Raphaelite hair winked at Nora. The long-dead princess must have guessed what Nora and Søren had planned. Her smile was one of approval. Envy even. Nora didn’t blame the lady. Who wouldn’t want a night in Søren’s bed?
The wink reminded Nora of someone she knew long ago. And the castle reminded her of somewhere she’d once run away to and hidden herself. The abbey. Her mother’s abbey. The gray stone walls, the wandering hallways and the portraits like icons. The sound of her feet on the stone floors brought to mind that year she’d lived in her mother’s convent. Not quite a full year but close enough. Close enough that she thought of it always as “that year.”
She pushed thoughts of the past away. The present was a far more pleasant moment. Through an arched wooden door they entered their bedroom. The fire in the fireplace was dead, but no matter. Linen sheets and silk pillows invited them to the bed. They needed only each other for warmth now.
Søren left her standing by the bed as he lit the bedside oil lamp for light and the candles on the fireplace mantel for ambience. Nora slipped out of her shoes and let her feet sink into the soft woven rug that covered the stone floor. She put her flowers in the ice bucket, which made for a perfect makeshift vase. Displaying them on the table by the bed might be a little too much even for Søren so she set them on the fireplace mantel instead.
“We’ve never made love in a castle before, have we?” Nora asked as she turned from arranging her flowers to gaze around the room. She walked from the great stone fireplace to the hanging blue-and-red tapestries on the wall adorned with unicorns, dragons and knights.
“Belgium,” Søren said as he strode to the bed, carrying a box in one hand and something long, thin and wrapped in fabric in the other. He snapped his fingers and she jogged to his side.
Nora smiled at the memory of a long-ago journey through Europe they’d taken together. An anniversary gift from Kingsley.
“We’ll always have Belgium. And what was her name?”
“Odette.” Søren opened the box that held her collar.
“Oh yes. That was it. She was fun, wasn’t she?” While in Belgium, she and Søren had toured a little brewery and had met a beautiful Swiss translator named Odette. During the tasting, Odette had flirted shamelessly with them both—she and Søren had dueled over who knew more languages. Søren won, but just barely. After the tour, Odette had come back with them to their hotel room in a renovated castle. Nora had been young then, only twenty-four, and had never been that intimate with a woman. Søren hadn’t touched Odette, but he’d certainly enjoyed watching the two of them together that night.
“You’re smiling, Little One.” Søren brought her collar around her neck and locked it on. While his fingers were at her throat he toyed with the necklace she wore always these days. It had three charms on it—two rings engraved with the words Everything and Forever and a small silver locket Nico had given her as a token of his adoration. They made a gentle clinking sound like tiny wind chimes when she moved.
“Good memories,” she said. “So many good memories I’ve forgotten some of them.”
“Speaking of memories, I have a gift for you. A gift in memory of something.”
“You don’t have to give me anything,” she said, keeping her eyes low, respectful, submissive.
“I know,” he said with that touch of arrogance she’d always loved and loathed in equal measure. “But it was time I gave you this.”
He held up the bundle still covered in its fabric wrapping.
“What is it?”
“You’ll find out. But you have to earn your gift first.”
“It’s not a gift if I have to earn it,” she reminded him.
“Then we’ll call it a ‘prize.’”
“How do I earn my prize?”
“Trial by fire.”
“You are in a mood tonight, aren’t you?” she asked. “Sir?”
“Do you accept the challenge?” he asked, his eyebrow cocked, his smile tight but amused. She was thirty-eight years old, and she had loved Søren since she was fifteen...and yet...after all this time he could still scare the shit out of her.
God, she loved him.
“Yes, sir,” she said. “I want my prize.”
Søren cupped her face again, kissed her lips again.
“I already have my prize.” He kissed her on the forehead.
She stood unmoving and made no protest as Søren stripped her naked. He unbuttoned her blouse and slid it off her arms. Under her shirt she wore a black corset, which he took an unnecessary amount of time unlacing. The more eager she was to have him inside her, the longer he took getting there. Her own fault for falling in love with a sadist, not that she regretted it. He unzipped her leather skirt and pushed it over her hips and down her legs. His fingers on her bare skin as he unhooked her stockings set her to shivering, even more when he tickled the bottoms of her feet as he pulled them off.
If she hadn’t loved Søren before, she would fall in love with him again for looking at her thirty-eight-year-old body with the same desire that had once gazed on her naked seventeen-year-old form. She’d never suffered from a lack of self-esteem and had, more than once—rightly—been accused of being egotistical. A woman who took money from men for the privilege of letting them worship her had to have more than her fair share of confidence. But finding herself so much closer to forty than thirty had taken a little getting used to. Time had only increased Søren’s beauty. The gray in his hair could barely be distinguished from the blond. The years had sharpened his features, scraped off the rough edges, and sculpted him into a man worthy of all the respect and love she had to give him. She had an older man to adore and a younger man who adored her.
Life was good.
“Someone’s quiet,” Søren said as he lifted her off her feet and laid her onto the bed on her back. The linen sheets tickled her, made her aware of every nerve in her body. “Are you nervous?”
“I was thinking about tomorrow.”
“‘Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself,’” Søren said.
“Yes, Father Stearns. I’ve read Matthew, too.”
Søren set a basin on the nightstand by the bed and soaked a small white towel in the water.
“Good. Now stop worrying and hold still while I set you on fire.”
Nora held still.
Fire-play wasn’t so much about pain as it was fear. Fear and its mirror twin—trust. She closed her eyes while Søren painted her stomach with an ice-cold gel that smelled of rubbing alcohol. He took each
of her wrists and buckled them one by one to the headboard with leather cuffs.
Søren lifted the candle off the bedside table and moved it slowly up and down her body six inches or less from her skin. When he inflicted his sadism on her, he did so intently, with respect for the act and respect for her willingness to serve him. Playing with fire was dangerous and it was rare when Søren asked her to submit to this sort of edge-play. She knew him. When anxious, troubled or under stress, he centered himself with sadism. He could pretend he wasn’t worried about tomorrow, but she knew better. It was on his mind as much as hers.
Outside the castle, the storm battered the windows and the walls. But the eye of the storm was their bed. All was quiet if not calm. Søren brought the flame to the edge of the S and at once it flared into life.