Coming March 29, 2016
Sister Abigail Eunice
I HAVE BEEN told I look like Mila Kunis, and you’d think this was a good thing, but in my line of work, it’s more of a hindrance. You see, I’m a nun. Admittedly, I’m not a very good one, but nonetheless, I am, in fact, a nun.
Which (in a very roundabout way) led me to a tiny, hole-in-the wall bar at the edge of the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon, on a quiet Wednesday night.
I was supposed to be meeting my friend, Laura, for dinner, but as I stepped off the MAX, I realized I’d gotten off at the wrong stop and, as was my luck, the small wet sprinkle coming from the sky quickly turned into a downpour.
“Well, crap!” I slapped a hand over my mouth and mumbled, “Sorry, Lord.”
Seriously, I was the worst nun ever.
Unsure of which street I was on, I took shelter under an awning next to a building with a frog motif, but no other identifying information. Frustrated, I fished my phone out of my purse and tried to figure out where I was. I had a missed call from Laura, and a new voicemail, which I could only guess meant she wouldn’t be able to make it.
“Hey, lady. I’m so sorry, I’m stuck at work and I can’t get down to the Pearl for another hour. Do you still want me to try or do you want to resched?” Yes, she said, “resched.” “Anyhoo, text me and let me know what you want to do. Love ya, ’bye.”
Laura Chan was my oldest friend. She was actually the only one who knew me before the nunnery, and therefore knew me as Sadie Ross, not Sister Abigail Eunice. Laura’s parents had moved from China, and into the house next door, the summer before second grade. She’d spoken very little English, but we still managed to communicate and we roamed the neighborhood, inseparable until my parents’ death. I adored her, even though she wasn’t always reliable. Ever hopeful, however, I always gave people the benefit of the doubt, so here I stood, only slightly protected from the pouring rain. And it was pouring. I fired off a quick text to Laura, pressing send... just as my phone died.
“Oh, holy mother of—” I pulled my sweater closer around me and stepped toward the building’s entrance so I could warm up and perhaps borrow a phone, but just as I moved away from the wall, something came loose from above, dropping a bucket’s worth of collected water on my head. I let out a quiet squeak and pulled off my now soaked veil, yanking open the heavy wooden door and slipping inside.
“ID,” a gruff voice demanded.
I nodded even though I couldn’t see anything in the dark space, reaching into my purse and pulling out my Oregon ID.
A large hand swiped it from me then handed it back. “Sister Abigail, you look lost.”
I let out a snort. “You have no idea. I’m stranded and my phone died.”
“Ryder can call you a cab.”
“Owner.” He nodded toward the back of the building. “He’s at the bar.”
“Do I really need to go to the bar?” I asked.
“Lady, he’s got the number for the only cab company he trusts and if I let you leave in one from a company he doesn’t trust, he’ll be pissed.”
I gave him a look of mock concern. “That sounds serious.”
Bouncer dude chuckled. “Yeah, he’s got this weird thing about sweet women being protected.”
“What about women who aren’t sweet?” I challenged.
“Those too.” The bouncer laughed. “But the sweet ones always seem to get special treatment.”
I smiled. “Okay, I’ll head to the bar.”
I walked past the pool tables, dartboards, and a jukebox playing something with a heavy drumbeat next to the bar, the counter of which ran the length of the building. There weren’t a whole lot of patrons, just a few who looked as though they paid weekly rent for their stools. However, I was surprised by the heart motifs hanging and taped up in a few key places. I guess it made sense... Valentine’s Day was tomorrow, so the bar was probably getting ready.
A tall man with his back to me turned and I felt sucker punched. Like, as in, the breath left my body.
His light-blue eyes met mine and seemed to peer into my soul. I froze, unable to take one more step under the weight of his scrutiny. He crossed his arms, keeping eye contact, and I was drawn into his tractor beam-like pull. I inched forward, one baby step at a time, taking in his light-blond hair, a full beard—not quite Portland hipster full, but still sexy-as-heck full. When my gaze landed on his lips he gave me this incredibly delicious sideways smirk, and Lord help me, I wanted him to kiss me.
See? Worst nun ever.
“You lost, Sister?”
“How did you know I’m a nun?” Without my veil, most people just threw pitiful glances at my clothes as though I didn’t know how to dress in anything fashionable. I wore a sturdy black wool dress, black tights, and a gray button-up cardigan.
“Couple years of Catholic school. ’Course, I never saw a nun who looked like you, but it’s your shoes that give you away. It’s always the shoes.”
“Oh.” I bit my lip, glancing at my feet. “Well, you got that right. They call them sensible... I call them ugly.”
“Not touchin’ that one.” Ryder smiled. “You need directions?”
I shook my head. “I’m that tale of woe, I’m afraid. My friend couldn’t make our dinner date and my phone died.”
“You need a cab?”
“Yes, but do you mind if I just warm up for a minute?”
“You want some tea?”
I couldn’t stop a huge smile of relief as I sat on one of the stools. “I would love some tea.”
“Give me your phone and I’ll charge it for you.”
“No, that’s okay.” I waved my hand dismissively. “I doubt you’ll have a charger that works.”
He chuckled. “You’d be surprised.”
I pulled out my six-year-old flip phone and slid it to him.
“Right,” he said.
“Solve that one,” I retorted with a giggle.
“Oh, you don’t think I can?” He pulled open a drawer next to the cash register. After testing several cords against my phone, he let out a, “Gotcha!” and faced me again, plugging my phone into the wall. “Found one.”
“How is that even possible?”
He laughed. “We never throw anything away and people leave shi—ah, stuff here all the time.”
I raised my hands and gave him quiet applause. “Well done, sir. Well done.”
He grinned and handed me a cup of hot water and a couple of tea bags. I was pleasantly surprised to see he had my favorite licorice flavor and steeped it in the water while Ryder went about his business.
“You look like you’re gearing up for Valentine’s Day,” I said, and sipped my tea.
Ryder shook his head. “Not my choice.”
“Aren’t you the owner?”
He chuckled. “Doesn’t mean I’m not ruled by my patrons.”
“Ah, so not a romantic, then.”
“Just think men should show their women they love ’em every day... not wait for one day out of the year. The whole holiday is a farce, in my opinion.”
I smiled. Maybe he was a romantic.
As he freshened my hot water, I wondered what my fellow sisters would think about the predicament I’d gotten myself into. Granted, they rarely left the abbey, but they also didn’t have jobs like I did.
Being a fourth-grade teacher and working for the Catholic school next to our living quarters was a perfect setup for me. Lately, however, I’d been feeling restless and I know Reverend Mother noticed. In fact, I had a meeting with her in the morning and it sounded serious, so being late or tired would not be an option. Perhaps my ill-fated evening was cut short for a very good reason. Mother always says God works in mysterious ways.
“You ready for that cab?”
Ryder’s question pulled me from my thoughts and I smiled, shaking my head. “Is it okay if I stick around for a little bit?”
“Knock yourself out.” He glanced at his watch. “But you’re outta here within the hour. It gets a little rowdy at night.”
“Your bouncer warned me about you.”
I wrapped my hands around the cup, warming them. “He said you’re very protective of women.”
He glanced behind me and then met my eyes again. “Bennie talks too much.”
“Maybe so.” I shrugged and then sipped my tea again.
“What do people call you other than ‘Sister’?”
“Nothing. I’m Sister Abigail Eunice. Although my parents named me Sadie.”
Now why did I share that? I hadn’t used my real name in years.
He leaned against the bar. “Pretty.”
My breath caught. “My parents thought so,” I said once I could speak again.
“But not you?”
“No, I like it fine. I guess I don’t really think about my name much.” I shrugged. “My students call me Sister and I don’t have many friends outside of... well, outside.” I shook my head. “Gosh, that sounds so narrow.”
Ryder grinned. “Sheltered perhaps.”
“That’s very gracious, Ryder.”
He cocked his head. “Never been called gracious before.”
Elbow on the bar, I settled my chin in my palm. “That surprises me.”
“Of course it does. You’re a nun.”
“You’re gracious to everyone, so you assume others will be gracious as well.”
“I’m not gracious to everyone. I’m a nun, not perfect.”
Ryder shrugged. “Fair enough.”
“I should go.”
“Probably a good idea.” He grabbed his cell phone and put it to his ear. “Hey. Got time to drop someone home?” He faced me. “Where do you live?”
“Beaverton. Great. Yeah, five minutes works. Thanks.” Ryder hung up and slid his phone back in his pocket.
“You’re pretty friendly with the cab company, huh?” I took the last swig of tea and set the cup down.
“One of my guys is taking you home.”
“I thought you were calling me a cab.”
“Can’t let a nun pay the cab fare all the way to Beaverton.”
I frowned. “You don’t think I can pay for cab fare?”
“Not what I said, Sister.”
“Wow, you really take this whole I-am-man-hear-me-roar stuff, to a whole ’nother level, huh?”
His gaze went to something (or someone) behind me and he nodded. “Ride’s here.”
I decided not to argue; probably because it would do absolutely no good, and slid off my stool. “Thanks for the tea.”
Somehow, him calling me “Sister” felt lacking. I took a deep breath. Lordy, I was ridiculous... and I probably needed to confess, but I knew I wouldn’t.
Again, worst nun award goes to...
Ryder grabbed my phone and stepped out from behind the bar. “My number’s in there if you need anything.”
“What would I need?” I asked, and took the phone from him.
He shrugged. “You never know, Sister. It’s a resource. Feel free to use it.”
What a strange thing to say.
“Thanks for everything, Ryder,” I said, leaving my internal thoughts in my head.
“No problem.” He nodded toward his friend. “This is Reese. He’s gonna take you home.”
Reese was tall, dark, and handsome as they say, but he had an edge about him that made me a little nervous. His hair was longer than Ryder’s and kind of shaggy, and he was quite muscular. I was fairly confident he wouldn’t hurt me, but had I met him under different circumstances, I might have declined a ride.
A warm hand settled on my back and I felt a shiver steal down my spine.
“You okay, Sister?” he asked.
“You’re safe with him, yeah? You have any issues, you call me.”
“Okay.” I stepped away from his touch and forced a smile. “Reese, it’s lovely to meet you. Thank you for the ride.”
“No problem.” He waved his hand toward the door. “This way.”
With a backward glance and smile to Ryder, I followed Reese out to the car, grateful he wasn’t a big talker. Our conversation consisted of him asking me for my address and me giving it to him. The rest of the ride strictly featured me gripping the door handle (as was my habit). I hated cars and avoided them whenever I could.
It didn’t take long to arrive at the rectory and I thanked Reese and climbed out of the car, a little taken aback when he followed. “I’m fine from here.”
“Ryder’d kick my a—rear if I didn’t make sure you made it inside safely.”
“Right, his protection fetish.”
Reese chuckled but didn’t comment.
I led him up the brick walkway and to the back of the building where I unlocked the door and stepped inside. “Thanks again for the ride.”
“My pleasure, Sister. Have a good night.”
He walked away, and I closed and locked the door.
QUICK, UNEVEN FOOTSTEPS sounded on the hardwood floors and I smiled as I peeked around the corner. Reverend Mother had had a limp since childhood, and although it didn’t slow her down, it did mean I knew when she was coming. “Hi, Mother.”
She smiled. “You’re home early.”
I rolled my eyes. “Laura couldn’t make it, so I found myself a little stranded in the Pearl.”
Mother’s hand flew to her chest. “Oh my word, dear, I don’t really like the idea of you riding the bus home in the dark.”
“I didn’t. A very nice gentleman dropped me home.”
“Sister Abigail,” she admonished. “Who is this man?”
I filled her in; however, I left the part out about Ryder being gorgeous, and his friend almost equally so, and she relaxed... sort of.
“Well, it sounds like you met a nice person. However, I would caution you to avoid bars in the future.”
I giggled. “I have no problem with that.”
“Since you’re home so soon, how about we sit down and have a chat.”
“Ah, sure.” I followed her into her office and sat across from her. I was a little nervous, which was silly. She’d been the only mother I’d known since I was eight, and she was always kind, but she seemed really tense tonight.
“I won’t bore you with the suspense,” she said. “I will get right to the point. I think it’s time you went out on your own.”
She smiled. “You are not cut out to be a nun, Sister—and I don’t say that as a criticism. I truly don’t believe you’re called to this life.”
She raised a hand, cutting me off. “This life isn’t meant for everyone, dear. There are sacrifices and requirements that I don’t think you’ll ever be ready for.”
“Am I not committed enough? I can do better.”
“Sweetheart,” she breathed out, standing and making her way to me. She sat down in the chair beside mine and took my hand. “No one, least of all me, could or would ever question your commitment to God and your students. You are a gifted teacher and you’re a beautiful soul…but you still cannot tell me why you chose to commit to this life.”
I felt my back stiffen. She and I had spoken about this several times, but my answer never seemed to appease her. Deciding to take one more stab at it, I said, “Because I love it here and this is where I want to be.”
“But have you prayed about it? Do you honestly feel you’ve been called to this life? When was the last time you went to confession?”
Each one of her questions felt like a dagger to my heart, because I knew she was right.
She sighed. “Oh, dear girl, you’re so busy traveling down this road you didn’t even stop and ask for directions.” Reverend Mother ran her palm across the top of my hand. “Have you ever felt the calling on your life?”
Did I? I didn’t know anymore. Maybe I never knew. I blinked back tears. “I don’t know how to live outside of these walls, Mother. I have a little money saved, but I doubt it’s enough to live on for very long.”
“You have your trust fund.”
I shook my head. “I gave that to the church.”
“The church didn’t take it.”
“What?” I gasped. “Why not?”
“Because you were eighteen years old. You’d spent ten years learning how to live without your parents and you fell into the role you currently serve. But you didn’t really choose it... you settled for it. It was the balm that soothed the wound of your parents’ death, but it’s not really living, sweetheart. I knew that one day we’d have this conversation, so I kept the money in your name.”
Mother Superior was in fact my great aunt on my mother’s side. Only ten years older than my own mom and barely hitting her sixties, she looked much, much younger. As my only living relative, she’d taken me in (and loved me) when my parents had been killed. At only eight years old I’d survived the accident, although I’d been in a coma for a few days and required several months of physical therapy. She’d been at my side the entire time.
I sank further into the chair. “Wow.”
“None of this is going to happen immediately,” she assured me. “You’ll finish out the term, and in the meantime, you can take some time to look for a place to live and a new job.”
“I have to find a new job?” I rasped.
“We only employ nuns to teach, dear.”
“But I’m happy being a nun.”
Mother gave a sad chuckle. “You’re comfortable being a nun, but you’re restless and you forget I knew your mother.” She reached out and cupped my cheek. “You are just like her, Sadie, and I want you to be as happy as she was. You’re never going to be truly happy confined by these walls.”
I leaned my face into her hand, raising an eyebrow. “You’re not asking me to be the nanny to seven kids in Austria, are you?”
Mother dropped her head back and laughed. “You don’t play guitar, which I believe is one of the requirements.”
“Well, just don’t start singing about solving a problem like Sadie and it’ll be all good.”
“I’m already solving the problem of Sadie, sweetheart. I’m pushing you out of the nest. You need to fly.”
“Touché,” I grumbled.
She patted my hand. “Go and process all of this and we can talk more if you need to. We’ll slowly transition you into your new life, okay?”
I nodded. I didn’t really have a choice. “What about our dinners?”
“Honey, I’m still your auntie. We’re family. Nothing about that will change. Plus, now you can call me Auntie instead of Mother. I kind of like that idea. I’m here if you need me, we’ll still have our dinners, and I hope you’ll give me lots and lots of great-great nieces and nephews.”
Ryder floated into my mind and I shivered.
“Are you cold?”
“No.” I forced a smile. “It’s just that in order to give you those nieces and nephews I’ll have to meet a man, and I don’t know the first thing about dating.”
Mother chuckled. “Let’s get the job and home sorted first.”
I grimaced. “Probably a good plan.”
I rose to my feet, hugged my aunt, and headed to my room. Sparse though it was, it was home, and I now had to come to terms with leaving it.
My phone buzzed as I set it on my dresser, and I smiled. “Hello, Father Michael,” I answered.
“Hey. Sorry, is it too late?”
“Nope. Just got home from my canceled dinner with Laura.”
Father Michael Denton was one of our priests. He was new by our church’s standards—he’d been placed there two years ago, and honestly, he shouldn’t be a priest. I mean, maybe he should, that was between him and God, but I heard a lot of women in our church lament the fact he was too pretty to be a priest and that it was a waste to the female population. They weren’t wrong. He was tall with dark hair and chocolate-brown eyes, broad shoulders, and an easy way about him. He was one of my closest friends, but totally off limits for obvious reasons.
“She canceled?” he asked.
“Well, sort of. She got stuck at work so I had the choice to wait for her or reschedule.” I sat on the edge of my bed. “What are you doing up?”
“Going over a few things from the Bishop.”
Michael chuckled. “Nothing I can’t handle.”
“Did you know what my aunt was going to do?”
“You didn’t think to warn me?”
“I’m sorry, Sister,” he said. “It was confidential. If I could have told you, I would have.”
I sighed. “I know. It’s fine. Just sucks.”
“Let’s meet for coffee tomorrow and we can talk.”
“That would be great, Father. Thanks.”
“Better get back to it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Okay, have fun.”
“Oh, I plan to.”
I giggled. “’Night.”
I hung up and dragged myself to bed, prepared for a restless night.
* * *
Ryder flopped onto the sofa in his office and dragged his hands through his hair. He was screwed. Totally and completely. The second the beautiful nun walked into his bar, he’d been knocked on his ass, and he wanted to find a way to see her again.
Damn it! A nun.
In what world did fallin’ for a nun make sense? Sure as hell wasn’t his.
Lifting a glass of whiskey, he took a swig just as his phone buzzed in his pocket. He answered it without checking the screen. “Ryder.”
“Hey man, it’s Cam.”
Cameron Shane was a good friend, a private investigator, and happened to be an expert in all things kidnap and recovery related. He was perfect for it, particularly because you never saw him coming. He was an ex-FBI agent turned pastor, but because of his special abilities, occasionally took on cases where he knew he could help. Like now. Ryder had asked him to look into a family situation and they’d spent almost a month spinning their wheels until a lead popped up a week ago.
“Hey.” Ryder sat up, his body on alert. “You got anything?”
“Followed her boyfriend to Savannah. All roads point to her being with him.”
“Georgia?” Ryder snapped. “What the hell are they doin’ in Georgia?”
“I need to do a little more digging and I may have to do it at home, but we’ll find her, buddy. I promise.”
Ryder sighed. “Yeah.”
“One way or another. I’ve got a guy here who’s going to keep an eye on things and we’ll go from there.”
Ryder squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the panic away.
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“Okay. I’ll be home day after tomorrow and we’ll talk,” Cameron said.
Cameron hung up and Ryder dropped his face into his hands. If he didn’t find her soon, he never would, and he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to live with himself. He was the reason she was gone. Staring down at his phone, he tried to call Scottie one more time, but it went straight to voicemail. “Scottie, you need to call me, okay? I know I screwed up. I know you’re mad, but I’m worried. Please, baby girl, call me soon, yeah? ’Bye.”
Downing the rest of his whiskey, he forced his thoughts away from his wayward sister and back to the beautiful woman he’d met tonight.
It was just too damn bad she was a nun.
Before he could get too wrapped up in what would never be, he was dragged back out front to deal with a customer service issue. A good ass-kicking always helped to tire him enough to sleep the panic away and if that didn’t work, he had more than enough Jack Daniels at his disposal.