Authors: Nic Saint
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Eileen Stoker hasn’t led an enchanted life. Scorned by her ex-husband, condemned by the community and disgraced by her colleagues, she’s been the victim of male lust, vicious gossip and jealous rumors ever since growing into womanhood. Disgusted with it all, she just wants to be left alone, and decides to have nothing more to do with the town and its people, in particular men. So when she joins the church choir, the last thing she expects is to fall for its choirmaster, new priest in town Ramon Cole.
The moment Father Ramon lays eyes on Eileen, he’s enchanted by her beauty and her grace, and even though he has been warned by his concerned flock not to get involved with this Jezebel and modern-day Mary Magdalene, he can’t help but feel a strong urge to protect the young woman from the perils that face her. When she is accused of murder, therefore, he’s the only one to offer his helping hand… and heart.
THE PASTOR’S JEZEBEL LOVER
Eileen checked her look in the mirror. She wanted to make sure, before she went out there, that her breasts were sufficiently reined in so that they would incite no lust in anyone.
Father Ramon had told her in no uncertain terms that one more mishap like the one she’d suffered last Sunday, and she needn’t bother showing up at the next choir practice at all.
There was something about the man that infuriated her. It was the haughtiness, she concluded. The way he snapped and barked at her as if he were the Lord Jesus himself, and not merely some lowly parish priest tasked with the mission of spreading His word amongst the good people of Saint-Theresa Parish.
Ramon was new, so she probably shouldn’t judge him too harshly—she shouldn’t judge him at all, lest she be judged herself. But still…
He could simply have taken her aside and told her that the top two buttons of her blouse had come undone and the swell of ample chest was giving certain members of the congregation pause.
If he’d only spoken to her in a fatherly manner, and not come all high and mighty, she would have blushed, adjusted her outfit, and carried on with the rehearsal.
Now, due to his harsh words, she’d had trouble carrying a tune throughout the rest of the morning.
Not that she was much of a singer, but due to the incident, she’d considered the morning a total waste.
This time she’d opted for a light sweater, so Father Ramon had nothing to cavil at.
Her breasts were large, yes, and as such the bane of her existence. Ever since she was a young girl, she’d been the subject of more male attention than she’d been comfortable with, or prepared for by her parents.
She’d borne the lascivious scrutiny in silence, often wishing God would have granted her smaller boobs.
But her prayers had apparently landed on deaf ears. Her chest had kept on expanding, and now often was the subject of such speculation that she’d cursed them as her own personal cross to bear.
She fastened the scarf and placed the cap on her head, protecting herself from the Northern wind that was gusting something fierce, and shrugged into the heavy coat with the fur collar she’d grown accustomed to wearing. At least it would keep her warm until she arrived at the church.
She’d taken up the singing practice for lack of anything else to do. A nurse by training, she’d been forced to leave her position at Saint-Luke’s Hospital after becoming the subject of a gossip campaign instigated by some of the other nurses. They’d accused her of sleeping with one of the doctors, a lie so blatant the mere mention of it by the hospital administrator had brought tears of anger and disappointment to her eyes.
The man hadn’t believed her, which was a cross even harder to bear than the foul gossip itself. A woman as good-looking as she was must be a harlot, the man seemed to think, though he’d voiced it in more gracious terms.
He said he couldn’t keep her on due to the strained working relationship with her colleagues, though from the way his eyes kept dipping to her chest, she knew otherwise.
Jealousy. Jealousy and lust. Those two emotions had caused her more pain than she thought she could ever bear.
Now unemployed and living back home, she’d decided to occupy her time in the service of the Lord, for lack of anything else to occupy her time.
Father Ramon had welcomed her with open arms when she’d visited him that first time two weeks ago. The young priest said he couldn’t be happier with this addition to his small group of devoted volunteers.
Eileen walked along the sidewalk, head bowed down against the freezing wind, drawing her coat around her, and cursing the unemployment that had befallen her.
She wanted to work, and work hard, but time and time again, men had tried to enlist her for their own personal pleasure—something she’d always resisted—and women had tried to bully her into submission with the foulest campaigns of gossip.
Saint-Luke’s, the hospital that had employed her last, had been a beacon of hope to her. A Catholic institution, surely, would treat her with the respect she deserved? And perhaps she would even find a friend within its walls?
Not only hadn’t she found a friend, the campaign had robbed her of the last vestiges of hope. Disillusioned, she’d decided to live the rest of her life as a spinster, devoid of the attention of men, as they had caused her too much hurt.
Only at home, caring for her elderly mother, she could still feel the warmth of a human heart reciprocating the kindness she harbored in hers.
Kindness and love no one out there seemed to want. Not even Father Ramon.
She doubted whether she would keep on going to the choir practice. Its members were much older than she was, for one thing, and she had still to encounter a single smile or experience a kind word from any of them.
Old and disgruntled women, they looked upon her with eyes filled with suspicion. The gossip that had driven her from her workplace seemed to follow her even between the hallowed walls of the church, the one place she’d hoped to be welcome.
Finally, she reached the street where the church was located. Snow had covered it with a blanket of white, and looking up at the ancient brick structure, she thought she could detect, high up in the tower dwarfing her, a glimmer of hope for her future.
The cross perched high above surely would offer her protection from harm, and the benediction and comfort she was so desperately seeking.
She bowed her head, and stepped inside through the majestic oak doors, the darkness of the church enveloping her like a shroud.
She quickly genuflected, and dipped her hand in the stone font of holy water, then genuflected again, and walked with quick steps down the flagstone central aisle of the church to the altar, where a small group of choir members were already setting up their songbooks.
She saw the athletic figure of Father Ramon facing the group, seemingly lost in thought, his head bowed and his hands folded in prayer.
As she drew nearer, the clacking of her heels on the stone floor had him look up, and what she saw in his eyes as they captured hers, sent her heart racing. It was an expression of warm welcome powerful enough to melt the heart.
I don’t want to go on like this, Eileen thought. She’d taken the songbook and placed it on the stand, taking her place amongst the sopranos. They were the largest group, consisting of seven elderly ladies, she the youngest amongst them.
As she strained her voice to produce the high note ending the first piece for next Sunday’s Mass, she thought Father Ramon looked particularly distraught today, and she wondered why she cared.
Though he’d briefly expressed his gratification that she’d decided to join them today, she was still doubtful about the man. Last week he hadn’t been nice to her at all, and had in fact scolded her for an unintentional wardrobe failure. And yet she felt a certain kinship with the young priest.
He, like her, was used to going it alone. Though not banned by his church from finding a spouse and settling down to raise a family, he’d voluntarily chosen to remain celibate, a decision that had elicited much comment amongst his flock.
Especially the lady to Eileen’s left, Mrs Burke, seemed adamant to set the young priest up with a wife sooner rather than later.
The fact that she had an unmarried daughter herself probably had something to do with that.
And then there was Mrs Cooper, the middle-aged woman to Eileen’s right, who belted so much out of tune Eileen herself had a hard time harmonizing.
Mrs Cooper, twice widowed, didn’t seem put off the marital state by this misfortune, and had been chasing the priest herself, thus far with little to show for it except one invitation to cook him dinner which he’d graciously declined.
The fact that a new member had joined the choir, one who was not only considerably younger than the rest of the mob, but not bad looking either, had the tongues wagging and the gossipmongers working overtime.
The same atmosphere that had marred her days at Saint-Luke’s seemed to pervade these church gatherings, and Eileen found this so distressing she doubted she’d weather the storm much longer.
She simply couldn’t catch a break now could she? Time and time again, she encountered the same toxic mix of jealousy and the human tendency to cause other people harm.
After the third nasty glance from Mrs Cooper and the horribly ill-mannered response from Mrs Burke when she asked her a simple question about next Sunday’s service, she decided enough was enough.
The church choir, like all the other social gatherings she’d joined in the hope of finding a friend, was simply a bust.
This was the last rehearsal she’d attend, and she’d inform Father Ramon first thing he announced their time together was up.
But then he forget about his timing, and the rehearsal had already gone five minutes over time, when Mrs Cooper loudly cleared her throat, and tapped her wrist watch in an attempt to make the man of God put down his conductor’s baton and call it a day.
Ramon woke up from a beautiful dream, one in which God’s music echoed through his church. Choir practice was one of his favorite times of the week, the voices touching his heart. One voice in particular in fact, though he hardly dared admit it to himself. The latest addition to the choir had been a stroke of luck, Eileen Stoker combining the looks of a goddess with the voice of an angel. Sometimes he wished it was just the two of them in here. A solo performance intended for his ears only.
He forced a weak smile on his lips, and announced, “That’s it for today, folks. Thank you all for coming at such an inopportune time, and I do hope you’ll forgive me for making you work like the dickens.”
There were murmurs of mirth among the choir members, and then the usual ritual began: Mrs Cooper asking him if he wouldn’t mind explaining her about last Sunday’s lecture. Then Mrs Burke informing him of her daughter’s intention to join the choir at the earliest possible convenience, and finally…
He looked up at Eileen, and blinked when she gave him a brief nod, and asked if she could have a minute of his time.
If he were absolutely honest, he would have replied she could have more than just a minute. Eileen was a woman who had suffered, that much was obvious, and all he could think of each time he saw her lovely face, was to fold her into his arms and hold her until all the hurt went away.
Not allowing his mind to wander on these and other inopportune, not to mention indecent, thoughts, he gave her a curt, “Walk with me.”
She seemed surprised, and he quickly explained he didn’t mean to suggest they endeavor outside.
“Merely to the sacristy. I have to put these songbooks away.”
“Oh,” was her brief reply, and when he started gathering up the sheet music, nodding his goodbyes to the departing ladies, she fell into step beside him, and followed him down the small door leading to the inner sanctum of his modest church.
He unceremoniously plunked the stack of books on his desk, and took a seat on it himself, folding his hands in his lap and directing what he hoped was a sufficiently serene expression at her.
“So. What can I do for you, Miss Stoker?”
She stood casting quick looks around the small space, and thought she’d never seen a bigger mess.
If she hadn’t yet known that Father Ramon was a bachelor, she knew now. Clothes lay strewn about, gathering dust among boxes filled with books and documents, and the feeble light that trickled in through the stained glass windows fell on church chairs heaped in a corner, collection baskets fallen to the floor and in apparent disuse, and a statuette of Saint Joseph facing the wall as if the father of the Lord had been a naughty boy.
“I, ahm…” she said, feeling an odd weakness affect her knees now that she was alone with Father Ramon for the first time since making the young priest’s acquaintance.
He was even more handsome up close, she decided, his face hewed from the living rock, dark eyebrows over even darker eyes, a Roman nose slicing his face above a slash of a mouth that she’d noticed had a habit of quirking into a quick smile when you least expected it. His jet black hair fell in tousled strands across his brow, and lent him something boyish that belied the seriousness with which he seemed to take his holy task of bringing God’s message to the masses.