The Virgin — Sneak Peek
This is not a drill.
This is not a drill.
Elle repeated those words in her mind as she wove between the dawn-weary commuters at Penn Station.
This is not a drill.
She wanted to walk faster, but she couldn’t. Pausing by a trash can, she held the wire rim of it with both hands and breathed through her nose. A cramp twisted in her stomach and nausea hit her like a bus. The sickness passed quickly. Five hours since she last threw up. Her nausea ebbed. Her panic crested.
This is not a drill.
Standing up straight she strode forward again, tucking a loose strand of black hair under the Mets cap she’d bought at a gift shop. She didn’t watch baseball often, although Griffin had taken her to a few games this season. He would never have forgiven her if she’d bought a Yankees hat. Then again, she would probably never see him again so what did it matter?
But still, it mattered.
Every few steps, temptation whispered to her, telling her to turn around, look around… She wasn’t paranoid. But what was it Joseph Heller had said? It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you? By now Kingsley had surely sent the troops out looking for her and this was the first place they’d look. It might have been a mistake coming here. This had been the plan though, the only plan she had.
This is not a drill.
Twice a year, every year, Kingsley had run her through the drill.
“There are five possible scenarios that would force you to run,” Kingsley had warned her each time they’d run through the drill. “I want you to be ready.”
The first time she’d been twenty years old. She and Søren had been lovers for only a few months. That was reason number one for the drill, scenario number one.
“He’s a priest, chérie, and you’re his lover now. You get caught in bed with him, and your world will explode. If that happens, the best thing you can do for him is run,” Kingsley had said, his tone solemn and sober. He meant it.
“I’m not running away from Søren,” she’d said. “Not now. Not ever. Especially not when he needs me the most.”
“Your willingness to martyr yourself will only make things worse. Journalists are sharks, and the last thing we need is a feeding frenzy. This isn’t an option, Elle. This is an order. From him and from me. Scenario number one—if you and le prêtre get caught, you run.”
An order was an order. Søren had told her to do whatever Kingsley told her to do. Everything within her had rebelled at the idea of running away if and when she and Søren were caught, but she belonged to him—she’d sworn to obey him. Because of that vow, her decisions were not hers to make. Søren had decreed it—if the outside world found out about them, she would leave town. Immediately.
But that’s not why she was here now hiding her hair under a baseball cap and walking as fast as the pain and the nausea would allow.
Scenario number two scared her more than the possibility of scenario number one.
“I know dangerous people, Elle, and they might kill me someday. They might take me captive. It’s happened before,” Kingsley had said, and she recalled the scars on his body, his chest and his wrists. “You two are the most important people in the world to me and that means they’ll come after you two if they want to hurt me. If something happens to me, if anything happens to me, you go. You and Søren both. Together. Apart. I don’t care. You go.”
He’d meant it, and by now she knew how true those words were. He already had four bullet wounds on his body from four other attempts on his life. He had an in with every Mafia family in New York. He had reams of blackmail material on every politician in the tristate area. He could get the Prime Minister of Canada on the phone with one call, U.S. senators, and billionaire CEOs. He knew too much and that made him a target. Elle had been Kingsley’s lover since she was twenty years old—Kingsley’s and Søren’s. She knew much of what Kingsley knew and that made her a target, too.
But scenario two was not why she left, either.
Scenario three seemed unlikely, but Kingsley insisted on preparing her for it. If Søren died for any reason—motorcycle accident, sudden illness, or foul play, she would need to get out of town. Fast. The rectory wasn’t private property. It belonged to the church and the moment he was gone, his home would be flooded with the grieving and the curious. Even worse, a new priest would arrive to take over the church. Søren’s personal effects would be gone through, his private life uncovered. It might happen before Kingsley could get someone to clean the house out. Even now, a large trunk sat at the foot of his bed. If anyone unlocked it, opened it and pulled the stacks of linens aside, they would find floggers, whips, canes and—most damning of all—photographs. They were of her, of course. A famous burlesque photographer who frequented Kingsley’s clubs had been dying to photograph her since he first saw her. The black hair, the curves, those eyes, he’d said. According to him, she was Bettie Page reborn. She’d posed for a nude photo spread for him and given Søren the pictures for his thirty-seventh birthday. They were beautiful pictures—black-and-white, tasteful, not pornographic. But undeniably erotic. They were signed “As Always Beloved, Your Eleanor,” and they sat in that steamer trunk anyone with a crowbar could open. A priest hiding naked pictures of a woman wouldn’t be much of a scandal. But a priest hiding naked pictures of his lover, who also attended his church and had since she was born, would ruin his legacy and possibly her life.
Søren was the healthiest man she knew, however. And he was careful on his Ducati. And who would murder a priest? He had no enemies as far as she knew. She pitied anyone who would go up against Søren. She’d merely nodded at Kingsley when he told her she would need to run if something happened to Søren. It would never happen. And she was right. Nothing bad had happened to Søren.
So that’s not why she’d left.
Scenario number four had also seemed preposterous when Kingsley had been training her for this moment.
“You could get pregnant,” Kingsley had said. “Try not to do that. But if it happens, leave town before you start to show.”
“I’m not going to get pregnant,” she’d said, rolling her eyes. Nothing was going to get in the way of her life with Søren. Not a scandal, not the press, not the church and definitely not a kid.
And then it had happened. But it wasn’t Søren’s and it wasn’t why she left. Not entirely.
Finally Elle found a bank of rental lockers and pulled out her keys. Locker number 1312 was three up and four over. She unlocked it and pulled out a black leather duffel bag.
Twelve times she and Kingsley had run through the drill. Twice a year for six years. She was required to go the station, get the duffel bag and make it to one of Kingsley’s safe houses in less than twelve hours. Now at twenty-six years old, Elle, for the first time in six years, realized how right Kingsley had been. She wished she’d paid more attention to his warnings.
“Scenario number five…” Kingsley had paused before speaking again. That pause had scared her.
“Scenario number five,” Kingsley began again. “If Søren crosses a line, loses control, goes too far and—”
“No,” she’d answered him the first time they’d run through this drill. “That won’t happen.”
“It might happen. It can happen. And you need to be ready for it.”
“I know him, King. He loves me. He won’t lose control with me.”
With more compassion than she expected Kingsley to have left in his scarred heart, he’d cupped her face and forced her to meet his eyes.
“He hurt me so much after our first time together, I vomited on the ground after he was done with me. I passed blood for three days. My body wasn’t bruised. My body was a bruise.”
“You liked it.”
Kingsley smiled at her, a smile that scared her. “You won’t.”
“He was seventeen then. He’s an adult now—”
“He’s more dangerous today than he was back then. He’s better trained, but don’t mistake well trained for tame. He is anything but tame.”
“He’s not like that anymore.”
“I told you the first night you and I spoke that your shepherd was a wolf. He is a wolf on a leash and that leash might break someday. When that happens, you take care of yourself. I’ll take care of him.”
“It won’t happen.” She’d whispered the lie, and it had been a lie because it had already happened. She hadn’t told Kingsley about that morning in the shower when the wolf had come off the leash. She’d wanted to, tried to…but the words never quite made out of her mouth. Shame was a foreign concept to her until that morning.
But surely Søren would never do it again.
Elle didn’t take the time to unzip the duffel bag and check its contents. She already knew what was in it.
Five thousand dollars cash.
Credit cards that Kingsley could track to find her if she couldn’t get to any of his safe houses.
Three changes of clothes and toiletries.
A can of mace on a key chain.
A Swiss Army knife.
A wig to change her appearance.
Keys to the safe houses—one in Canada, one in Maine, one in Seattle.
A mobile phone and charger.
Beneath the duffel bag sat a black permanent marker. The marker was there for one reason only.
“I might be out of the country when it happens,” Kingsley had said, the “it” being whatever scenario had occurred that meant Elle would need to flee.
“Write a number inside the locker so I know why you went. And know this…if it’s number five, don’t go to any of the safe houses.”
“Why not?” she’d asked.
“Because whether I want to or not, I’ll help him find you if he asks. And if I’m helping him find you, I’ll find you.”
She’d shivered then, because he was telling the truth. Søren had Kingsley’s loyalty and his love. Even if Kingsley believed she was fleeing for the right reasons, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from helping Søren find her.
“What do I do?” she’d ask. “If I can’t go to a safe house, where do I go?”
“I can’t tell you that. You’re as smart as he is. Use your brain. Find somewhere he can’t follow. And whatever you do, don’t tell me.”
This is not a drill.
This was real.
Elle uncapped the marker. Inside the door of the locker she scrawled her message.
The Virgin is out in the US/Canada on March 31, 2015 and April 23, 2015 in the UK/Australia/NZ. Pre-order it now!