Three Sinners. Three confessions. And all the dirty little secrets you could possibly desire…
Father Stuart Ballard has been Marcus Stearns’ confessor since the young Jesuit was only 18 years old. He thought he’d heard every sin the boy had to confess until Marcus uttered those three fateful words: “I met Eleanor.”
So begins the “The Confession of Marcus Stearns,” a moving coda to the RITA® Award-winning Original Sinners series. Originally published as a limited-edition 10,000-word paperback novella for the 2014 RT Booklovers' Convention, and available worldwide for the first time.
This collection also includes “The Confession of Eleanor Schreiber,” a companion 10,000-word story written exclusively for "The Confessions."
And, finally, all secrets are revealed in “The Confession of Tiffany Reisz,” an exclusive, in-depth interview.
“I worship at the altar of Tiffany Reisz! Whip smart, sexy as hell — The Original Sinners series knocked me to my knees.” — New York Times bestselling author Lorelei James
About the Author
Tiffany Reisz is the bestselling author of The Original Sinners series from Mira Books. She is out of her damn mind.
Read an Excerpt
THE CONFESSION OF MARCUS STEARNS
"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
And He said to them, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
* * *
God said, Let there be music. And there was music.
At least, that's what Father Ballard assumed had happened. Father Stuart Ballard took his seat in the second-to-last pew and sent a prayer skyward, a simple thank you to God for creating music. He'd come in as the choir — a university group from somewhere in Kentucky — started its second piece, a bluegrass rendition of "Be Thou My Vision."
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art Thou my best thought, by day or by night Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light
Thy presence my light ... Perfect words in Ballard's estimation. A perfect hymn. No wonder it was Marcus's favorite. Too bad the boy wasn't here to hear it.
Boy? He's a man now, Stuart. Not a boy anymore, Ballard chided himself. Stop classifying anyone under the age of 40 as a child. Marcus was a fully ordained priest now. He had his own parish. And yet as long as Ballard lived, he'd always picture Marcus the same way — 18 years old, a shattered heart limping in his chest, baring his soul to him one dark night because, as Marcus said, "I heard something about you, Father Ballard. They say you loved someone, and she left you. I loved someone too, and he left me." And that boy had looked at him with agony in his eyes and whispered, "Can you help me?"
Father Ballard had answered the plea with a hand on top of the boy's blond head and one word.
Music had been the key that had unlocked the gates of the boy's labyrinthine psyche. When Marcus had entered seminary, he'd been a blond wall of intellect, of taciturn reserve. He rarely spoke unless spoken to first. He showed no inclination of even attempting to make friends. And, to make matters worse, he scared the shit out of everyone — Father Ballard included. Until that night ... the night Ballard discovered Marcus alone in the chapel after-hours playing a haunting sonata with his eyes closed. Ballard had listened a moment, moved by the boy's talent and utter absorption. Ballard certainly knew that feeling. So he'd gone to his office, dug around for a few minutes, and returned to the chapel with his guitar, an amplifier, and sheet music. The look of cold, quiet fury Marcus had given Ballard when he'd interrupted his playing nearly sent him scurrying. But he was older by thirty years than this young whelp and stood his ground.
"Enough of that long-haired shit," Ballard said. He loved classical music but he wasn't about to let Marcus know that. "Hands like yours were created to serve the devil's music. Play."
Marcus glanced at the sheet music in front of him and looked up at Ballard with unconcealed disgust.
"Father Ballard, you must be joking," Marcus said.
"Does it look like I'm joking?"
"They print sheet music for this?"
"Just play, you pretentious snob, or else you'll be cleaning bathrooms until Christmas," Ballard ordered again as he plugged in his Gibson SG. "Consider this part of your spiritual development."
Marcus sighed so that Ballard knew he was doing this entirely against his will. But the boy had played. It took a minute or two and a few false starts before he fell into the rhythm of the song. But five minutes later the five-hundred-year-old Roman chapel was filled to the rafters with the soaring sounds of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," a piece made glorious on piano and electric guitar. They didn't need words. They'd leave the singing to Freddie Mercury and the angels. After the song ended, Ballard saw something he'd never seen before and had despaired of ever seeing: Marcus smiled.
"This song is nonsensical," Marcus said as he closed the sheet music. "But the melody is rather ..."
"Fun, Marcus. The word is 'fun.' You're 18. You're allowed to have fun."
"I didn't enter seminary to have fun," Marcus said, lowering the fallboard.
"Then you entered it for the wrong reasons. Serving God is joyful, playful, exciting. It shouldn't be a chore. It should be fun. It can be fun. Have you ever had fun in your entire life?"
Ballard narrowed his eyes at him. He wanted to argue, thought about arguing. He had a few speeches he could give, a few lectures. Instead he only took a deep breath and said one word.
"Layla?" Ballard asked, hopeful. If Eric "Slowhand" Clapton couldn't get to Marcus, no one could.
Marcus paused, arched a golden eyebrow at Ballard, and raised the fallboard again. Maybe there was hope for the boy after all.
After an hour of working their way through Ballard's prodigious repertoire of rock ballads, Ballard asked Marcus who had taught him to play the piano. His mother, he answered. Slowly, as if every word hurt, Marcus told Ballard about his childhood. Marcus was a fortress of secrets, yes. But the fortress had a door and Ballard had learned the key to get inside was music. That had been the night Marcus had come to Ballard's office, broken down, and asked him to hear his confession. Ballard heard the name "Kingsley" for the first time that night. That name would become a recurring theme in Marcus's confessions.
The choir of young Kentuckians finished the hymn and gave modest smiles to the heartfelt applause. At a time such as this, Ballard felt gifted with a preview of Heaven. Here they were, a group of Kentucky college students at a church in Harlem singing a sixth century Irish hymn while an old English priest remembered the half-Danish boy who'd finally taught Ballard why he'd become a priest in the first place.
Past and present, black and white, north and south, sinner and savior, all united in worship. Now if the choir would just break into a verse or two of "Sweet Child O' Mine" Father Ballard could die happy and smile all the way to Heaven.
He sat up straighter when he sensed a presence behind him. Smiling, he glanced skyward again. "Stop paying attention to us," he whispered in his mind, a prayer God was sure to answer with a hearty "no."
Where Father Marcus Stearns was concerned, God always seemed to be paying attention.
When Ballard leaned his head back, the presence behind him leaned forward.
"Six months, Marcus," Father Ballard said, tapping his wrist as if he were noting the time. "No one goes six months without sinning."
"Do you have time for me today?"
"I might. What's her name?" he asked, his usual joke when another priest approached him for confession. Ballard looked back and saw Marcus had his rosary beads wrapped around his fingers. Something about the way he held them, tight and nervous, made Ballard's blood drop a degree or two in his veins.
"Eleanor," Marcus finally said, and the air went out of the room.
Father Ballard closed his eyes and lifted one finger to say, "Wait."
Not him, Ballard prayed. I'm not going to lose him. Any priest but him, Lord. Any priest but him.
After ending his prayer he rose and crooked his finger at Marcus. The blond priest rose and tucked his rosary beads into the pocket of his cassock.
Side by side they walked from the sanctuary just as the choir began "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." Good song. Guns N' Roses still would have been better.
"Do you care to walk?" Father Ballard asked and Marcus said he didn't mind. They needed to get away from the church to have this conversation. "We'll go to Trinity Cemetery. If anyone asks, we're merely paying our respects to the Astors."
"Weren't the Astors staunchly anti-Catholic?" Marcus asked.
"They're dead. Surely they've learned their lesson by now."
They didn't speak all the way to the cemetery. Ballard didn't trust himself to say anything yet, not until he'd heard the story. And talking now wouldn't have been a good idea even if he'd had the words. Too many people were aware of them to hold a private conversation. It wasn't every day that New Yorkers saw two Jesuit priests in black cassocks striding purposely up Saint Nicholas Avenue. Of course, even when Marcus wore street clothes he got looks both curious and hungry from women and men. The faces that stared at Marcus all wore the same expression, said the same thing ... What a waste.
"You hate me right now, don't you?" Ballard asked him as they turned the corner and walked through the gates of the old cemetery.
"Hate is a strong word," Marcus said, a diplomatic answer from a priest not known for his diplomacy.
"The cassock sets us apart. This is a good thing. People need to identify us."
"The collar isn't enough for you?"
"Diocesan priests wear collars. Jesuits should wear cassocks."
"You and I both pastor in parish churches now," Marcus reminded him. "We aren't on the mission field."
"The world is the mission field. Also, black is slimming and the cassock makes me look taller, don't you think?" Ballard required all the Jesuits he counseled to wear a cassock in his presence. Marcus had called him a sadist for that reason. Because he knew Marcus so well, Ballard took it as a compliment.
"If you haven't noticed, looking taller is not something I need help with," Marcus said.
"Humility is, however. You hate wearing a cassock because you feel ridiculous wearing one," Ballard said.
"It's medieval," Marcus said. "You might as well walk down the street in a suit of armor."
"This is my armor," Father Ballard said and stopped at the junction of two walking paths. To his left stood an ivy-covered crypt. To his right, the tomb of Alfred Dickens, son of Charles Dickens. He and Marcus weren't the only sons of England present and accounted for in the cemetery today.
"I don't need armor," Marcus said. "I intimidate people too much as it is."
"And you like it. Also, if we were in street clothes I might be tempted to send you arse over elbow, young man. This cassock is the only thing coming between you and a bloody nose."
"The cassock and eight inches of air," Marcus said.
"I'm five-eight. That isn't short."
Marcus arched his eyebrow and looked down at him.
"Fuck the cassock," Father Ballard said. "Kneel down. I want to break your nose."
Marcus stood up straighter. "You'll be threatening to box my ears next."
"Bastard," Father Ballard said. "Remind me again why I like you so much."
"If I knew, I would tell you."
"Walk." Ballard waved his hand toward the path. "Tell me about this girl."
"You'll hear my confession?"
"I suppose I'll have to," Ballard said, following Marcus onto the path. "I certainly don't want you telling it to anyone else."
"I never considered speaking to anyone else."
"Then confess. I'll be over here praying lightning strikes us both and puts us out of our misery."
"I came to you for comfort and guidance," Marcus said. "I can't quite remember why."
"Stop stalling. Get to the dirt."
Marcus stopped in the middle of the path, faced him, and crossed himself. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been six months since my last confession."
"What happened six months ago?"
"I met Eleanor."
"Lovely name. I hope she's beautiful enough to warrant ruining your life over."
Marcus said the words simply and without hesitation. Father Ballard felt a pang in his throat and a stone in his chest. He hadn't made love to a woman since becoming a priest. Forty years since he entered seminary. Thirty years since the last kiss, a kiss he bitterly regretted if only because it had been just a kiss ... a kiss and nothing more.
"Well, that's good then. Glad to hear she's worth it." Father Ballard waved his hand and set out walking again. "Go on. Tell me all about it."
"I would prefer not to."
"Sorry, Bartleby. This is confession. No secrets here."
"I'm a priest now, ordained. I hear confession every week. I know how much a secret weighs."
"Ta, then," Ballard said, trying and failing to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. "But I'm not going to absolve you if you hide things from me."
"It's called the sacrament of reconciliation, not the sacrament of interrogation."
"If you wanted a nice easy confession, you should have gone to a Franciscan. I know some Franciscans. Lovely gents. Good confessors too, if you can get them to stop playing with their puppies and kittens long enough to bless you."
"I'm confessing to you because I trust you and I care for you. I care enough to want to spare you the details."
"Spare me your sparing of me. I can't help you until I know what's going on. You've told me a thing or two that's turned my hair gray and shaved a few years off my life. You don't get to clam up now, not when it matters most."
"I don't know where to start," Marcus said, a rare note of apprehension in his voice. But then ... then he smiled and laughed and for one second he looked like a boy, not a man. A boy in love.
"I'll start then," Ballard said. "Ten Commandments. Have you broken any?" "I'm still not honoring my father."
"Considering what I know about your father, that you haven't murdered him in his sleep counts as honoring him in my books. You're a priest so I'm fairly certain you're keeping the Sabbath. I'm a little afraid to ask this question, but that's why we're here. Your Eleanor?"
"Yes? My Eleanor?"
"Are you sleeping with her?" Ballard asked.
"Do you want to?"
"Are you sleeping with anyone?"
"Have you since your last confession?"
"Are you hurting anyone?"
"Once a week if I can make time for it. There's no intercourse."
Father Ballard exhaled. "That's a relief. I can take a full breath now. Give me a moment. I'd like to have a few of them."
"Take as many as you need."
Ballard stopped mid-step and took three deep breaths. Thank you, Lord, for this small miracle, he prayed with each breath.
"I was afraid of this," Father Ballard said when his heartbeat had settled into its normal rut. "You in a church in a small town. The women must fall all over themselves for you."
"It hasn't been like that," Marcus said as they resumed walking again. "No one has tried anything, flirted to excess, or attempted to seduce me. No one but Eleanor."
"She's pursuing you?"
"Like the proverbial hound of Hell."
"Passionate type. My kind of woman."
Marcus took a breath. "She's 16."
Father Ballard stared at Marcus. "Please tell me you're joking."
"I haven't touched her. I promise."
"But you want to. And she's 16."
"I'm not an ephebophile, Stuart. If she were my age I'd be a much happier man. But she's not. That doesn't stop me from wanting her anymore than it's stopped her from pursuing me."
"You're being sexually pursued by a 16-year-old girl."
"Yes, and she's quite tenacious."
"She snuck into my office and masturbated on my desk."
Ballard whistled, impressed.
"That's tenacious." Father Ballard considered his options. He could laugh, cry, or punch Marcus in the face. He decided to laugh. "Is this the worst of it? She's 16, she's tenacious, and you want to fuck her."
"I'm in love with her."
"That scares me more than anything," Ballard said.
"Love scares you?"
"No. You being in love scares me." Ballard led them down a shady path. "I remember those first few months after you joined the order. Marcus Aurelius himself could have learned a thing or two about stoicism from you back in those days. In public. In private, however? In my office ..."
"I was a shipwreck," Marcus admitted. Good. Marcus had a bad habit of forgetting he was mortal. Good that he remembered his past moments of weakness. Even better that he'd admit to them.
"You told me about your father and your sister and what he did to her and what she did to you. You told me about your mother, about what happened to her and how she was taken from you. What happened to you could have destroyed you, could have destroyed any man. But none of that broke you. You fell in love with a boy at your school, and he left you —"
"And I fell apart." Marcus said the words simply, but Ballard knew it took superhuman effort to say them. The ghost of old pain lingered in his voice. He'd never met the boy Marcus had loved, but he knew so much about Kingsley from Marcus's confessions that Ballard fancied he could identify the man in a police line-up if he had to. Getting the truth out of Marcus had been like prying a stone from a child's hand only to force the fingers apart to see the diamond on his palm. Ballard remembered prying those diamonds from Marcus's hand ...
I never in my life dreamed I would want another boy. Then I saw him — his dark eyes, dark brown hair, and olive skin ...
Father Ballard ... what if I never see him again?
Kingsley kissed me first. I punished him for it, because I was too scared to kiss him back. I thought if I started kissing him, I would never stop.
What if I never kiss him again?
Kingsley used me as a pillow. I loved waking up to find his head on my chest or my stomach or my back. He has long dark hair and he laughs when I pull it. That's how I'd wake him up, tugging on his hair. The best days were the days his laugh was the first sound I heard.
What if I never hear it again?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Confessions"
Copyright © 2016 Tiffany Reisz.
Excerpted by permission of 8th Circle Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Confession of Marcus Stearns,
The Confession of Eleanor Schreiber,
The Confession of Tiffany Reisz,
About the Author,
Books by Tiffany Reisz,
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