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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Garwood Julie
 

«Heartbreaker», Julie Garwood

(Джулия Гарвуд — "Рискованная игра")

— прим. Lady Morgana

 

Chapter 1

It was hotter than hell inside the confessional. A thick black curtain, dusty with age and neglect, covered the narrow opening from the ceiling of the box to the scarred hardwood floor, blocking out both the daylight and the air.

It was like being inside a coffin someone had absentmindedly left propped up against the wall, and Father Thomas Madden thanked God he wasn’t claustrophobic. He was rapidly becoming miserable though. The air was heavy and ripe with mildew, making his breathing as labored as when he was back at Penn State running that last yard to the goalposts with the football tucked neatly in his arm. He hadn’t minded the pain in his lungs then, and he certainly didn’t mind it now. It was all simply part of the job.

The old priests would tell him to offer his discomfort up to God for the poor souls in purgatory. Tom didn’t see any harm in doing that, even though he wondered how his own misery was going to relieve anyone else’s.

He shifted position on the hard oak chair, fidgeting like a choirboy at Sunday practice. He could feel the sweat dripping down the sides of his face and neck into his cassock. The long black robe was soaked through with perspiration, and he sincerely doubted he smelled at all like the hint of Irish Spring soap he’d used in the shower this morning.

The temperature outside hovered between ninety-four and ninety-five in the shade of the rectory porch where the thermostat was nailed to the whitewashed stone wall. The humidity made the heat so oppressive, those unfortunate souls who were forced to leave their air-conditioned homes and venture outside did so with a slow shuffle and a quick temper.

It was a lousy day for the compressor to bite the dust. There were windows in the church, of course, but the ones that could have been opened had been sealed shut long ago in a futile attempt to keep vandals out. The two others were high up in the gold, domed ceiling. They were stained glass depictions of the archangels Gabriel and Michael holding gleaming swords in their fists. Gabriel was looking up toward heaven, a beatified expression on his face, while Michael scowled at the snakes he held pinned down at his bare feet. The colored windows were considered priceless, prayer-inspiring works of art by the congregation, but they were useless in combating the heat. They had been added for decoration, not ventilation.

Tom was a big, strapping man with a seventeen-and-a-half-inch neck left over from his glory days, but he was cursed with baby sensitive skin. The heat was giving him a prickly rash. He hiked the cassock up to his thighs, revealing the yellow and black happy-face boxer shorts his sister, Laurant, had given him, kicked off his paint-splattered Wal-Mart rubber thongs, and popped a piece of Dubble Bubble into his mouth.

An act of kindness had landed him in the sweatbox. While waiting for the test results that would determine if he needed another round of chemotherapy at Kansas University Medical Center, he was a guest of Monsignor McKindry, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church. The parish was located in the forgotten sector of Kansas City, several hundred miles south of Holy Oaks, Iowa, where Tom was stationed. The neighborhood had been officially designated by a former mayor’s task force as the gang zone. Monsignor always took

Saturday afternoon confession, but because of the blistering heat, his advanced age, the broken air conditioner, and a conflict in his schedule — the pastor was busy preparing for his reunion with two friends from his seminary days at Assumption Abbey-Tom had volunteered for the duty. He had assumed he’d sit face-to-face with his penitent in a room with a couple of windows open for fresh air. McKindry, however, bowed to the preferences of his faithful parishioners, who stubbornly clung to the old-fashioned way of hearing confessions, a fact Tom learned only after he’d offered his services, and Lewis, the parish handyman, had directed him to the oven he would sit in for the next ninety minutes.

In appreciation Monsignor had loaned him a thoroughly inadequate, battery-operated fan that one of his flock had put in the collection basket. The thing was no bigger than the size of a man’s hand. Tom adjusted the angle of the fan so that the air would blow directly on his face, leaned back against the wall, and began to read the Holy Oaks Gazette he’d brought along to Kansas City with him.

He turned to the society page on the back first, because he got such a kick out of it. He glanced over the usual club news and the smattering of announcements-two births, three engagements, and a wedding-and then he found his favorite column, called "About Town." The headline was always the same: the bingo game. The number of people who attended the community center bingo night was reported along with the names of the winners of the twenty-five-dollar jackpots. Interviews with the lucky recipients followed, telling what each of them planned to do with his or her windfall. And there was always a comment from Rabbi David Spears, who organized the weekly event, about what a good time everyone had. Tom was suspicious that the society editor, Lorna Hamburg, secretly had a crush on Rabbi Dave, a widower, and that was why the bingo game was so prominently featured in the paper. The rabbi said the same thing every week, and Tom invariably ribbed him about that when they played golf together on Wednesday afternoons. Since Dave usually beat the socks off him, he didn’t mind the teasing, but he did accuse Tom of trying to divert attention from his appalling game.

The rest of the column was dedicated to letting everyone in town know who was entertaining company and what they were feeding them. If the news that week was hard to come by, Lorna filled in the space with popular recipes.

There weren’t any secrets in Holy Oaks. The front page was full of news about the proposed town square development and the upcoming one-hundred-year celebration at Assumption Abbey. And there was a nice mention about his sister helping out at the abbey. The reporter called her a tireless and cheerful volunteer and went into some detail describing all the projects she had taken on. Not only was she going to organize all the clutter in the attic for a garage sale, but she was also going to transfer all the information from the old dusty files onto the newly donated computer, and when she had a few minutes to spare, she would be translating the French journals of Father Henri VanKirk, a priest who had died recently. Tom chuckled to himself as he finished reading the glowing testimonial to his sister. Laurant hadn’t actually volunteered for any of the jobs. She just happened to be walking past the abbot at the moment he came up with the ideas, and gracious to a fault, she hadn’t refused.

By the time Tom finished reading the rest of the Gazette, his soaked collar was sticking to his neck. He put the paper on the seat next to him, mopped his brow again, and contemplated closing shop fifteen minutes early.


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