I have been told I look like Mila Kunis. You’d think that 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 earlier quickly turned into a downpour.
“Well, crap!” I snapped, then slapped a hand over my mouth. “Sorry, Lord.”
Seriously, I was the worst nun ever.
I took shelter under an awning in order to fish my phone from my purse and try to figure out where I was. The building I stood next to had a frog motif, but no other information, and I wasn’t entirely sure which street I was on. I discovered 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, Sadie. I’m so sorry, I’m stuck at work and I can’t get down to the Pearl for another hour. Do you want me to still 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 was my oldest friend, but she was hardly reliable, and yet, I always gave people the benefit of the doubt, so here I stood in the middle of the street in 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 decided to step inside so I could get warm and perhaps borrow a phone, but just as I moved away from the wall, water came loose from somewhere and dropped on my head. I let out a quiet squeak and pulled off my now soaked veil, yanking open the heavy wooden door of the bar and slipping inside.
“I.D.,” 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 I.D.
A large hand swiped it from me then handed it back. “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 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.”
“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 to the bar which ran the length of the back 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.
A tall man with his back to me turned and I felt sucker punched. Like, as in, the breath left my body, I stopped moving toward him, and I wanted to find out what it would be like to be kissed by him.
See? Worst nun ever.
His eyes met mine and he gave me this incredibly delicious sideways smirk as he crossed his arms, keeping eye contact as I was once again drawn into his tractor beam like pull. He had longish dark blond hair, a full beard, not quite Portland hipster full, but still sexy as heck full, and his light blue eyes seemed to peer into my soul.
“You lost, sister?”
“How did you know I’m a nun?” Without my veil, most people just glanced at me sadly as though I didn’t know how to dress in anything fashionable. I wore a sturdy black wool dress, black tights, and a grey button-up cardigan.
He chuckled. “Five years of Catholic school. ’Course never saw a nun who looked like you, but it’s your shoes that gave 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.”
“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 picked the orange flavor and steeped it in the water, while Ryder went about his business. 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 set-up 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 said God worked 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 after ten.”
“Your bouncer warned me about you.”
I wrapped my hands around the cup, warming them. “He said you’re very protective about women.”
He glanced behind me and then met my eyes again. “Russ talks too much.”
“Maybe so.” I shrugged and then sipped my tea again.
“What do people call you other than ‘sister’?”
“Mostly they call me ‘sister,’ but my name is Sadie.”
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 chuckled. “Never been called gracious before.”
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 laughed. “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 is great.” 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, Sadie.”
“Wow, you’re really this this whole I am man, hear me roar stuff, to a whole other 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” instead of “Sadie” 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, Sadie. 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. I was fairly confident he wouldn’t hurt me, but if I’d met him under different circumstances, I might have declined a ride.
A warm hand settled on my back and I felt a shiver steal my spine.
“You okay, sister?” Ryder 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 as—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.”
“Sister Sadie, 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, sweetheart, 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.”
“Sadie,” 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 different somehow.
“I won’t bore you with the suspense, Sadie,” 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, sweetheart—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. “You are young, you are beautiful, and you deserve a life...one outside of these walls.”
“Am I not committed enough? I can do better.”
“Sweetheart,” she breathed out, standing and making her way to me. Taking a seat in the chair beside mine, she 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 should not be a nun. You were made to love and be loved, and to have children.” She sighed. “Oh, beautiful girl, you were made to be a mother. I have no doubt in my mind.”
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, Sadie. 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, as it should be.”
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 in a car accident. 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?”
“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 can’t do that being a nun.”
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. 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 suppose in order to give you those nieces and nephews I’ll have to meet a man and I wouldn’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. “Hey, Michael.”
“Hey. Sorry, is it too late?”
I shook my head. “Nope. Just got home from my canceled dinner with Laura.”
Father Michael Denton was one of our priests. One in training I guess you could say, 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.
“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, Sadie,” 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, Michael. 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. He could quite easily get himself out of his current predicament, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to. 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.
Lifting a glass of whiskey, he took a swig just as his phone buzzed in his pocket and he answered it without checking the screen. “Ryder.”
“Hey man, it’s Cam.”
Cameron Shane was a good friend, 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 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.
Ryder nodded. “Thanks, man.”
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.