by Nia Farrell
Cover design by Crystal Visions
Based on a short HFN story that appeared in the WOUNDED HEROES ANTHOLOGY.
Tagline: An ex-POW priest’s faith is tested when he falls for his PTSD therapist.
Blurb: Army chaplain Father Vincent Delaney survived ISIS captivity but now suffers from PTSD. He didn’t break under torture, but his faith is tested again when he finds himself falling for his exotically beautiful therapist.
Psychologist Ilsa Fischer is a multiracial Army brat who resembles her Sikh grandfather. As a medical professional, it’s illegal to get involved with a patient. Falling for a priest is the ultimate taboo.
It doesn’t help when she knows that Father Vincent wants her, too.
A secret baby/ second chance romance with a heat level of five, written for Ages 18+.
Fallen short story excerpt:
Ilsa Fischer was his obsession.
Father Andrew, the pastor of St. Margaret’s, had listened to his confession and assigned him penance. Father Vincent found the feel of his rosary comforting. The rounds of Hail, Mary’s were cathartic. Knowing his situation, Father Andrew had encouraged him to linger longer, to find solace in the arms of the Church and see if he could bear to step into the other side of the confessional after he’d had to leave the door open on his.
It was one thing to be a penitent, seeking forgiveness and absolution. But to be a confessor was to serve as God’s voice on earth. It was a privilege and a responsibility that he did not feel worthy to perform with such stains upon his soul. He’d strayed far enough in his mind to feel lost. So far he hadn’t managed to find his way back home. Instead, he’d been wandering like Moses in the Wilderness, helpless to help himself let alone those around him.
Father Vincent inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with the scents of incense, burned-out candles, and lemon oil wood polish rising from the rows of pews and the walnut confessional on one side of the nave. Dating from the nineteenth century, the ornate cabinet had been designed and built to suit the patron who’d paid for much of the church’s construction. Solid doors ensured privacy for those seeking absolution and allowed the priest to closet himself from the world and focus on the person on the other side of the screened partition. He had used the padded kneeler when he confessed to Father Andrew, but a chair had been added for those who needed it.
God called him to notice the place of forgiveness. Compelled to answer, he reached for the confessional door.
A time-worn bench spanned the back of the space, empty, beckoning, drawing him inside. The walls started to close in. He drew a steadying breath and recited the Twenty-Third Psalms. Called to be a shepherd, he thought of his last flock and wondered how many survived.
He should pray for their souls.
Father Vincent closed his eyes and drew the door shut behind him. With his thoughts turned inward, he was able to tolerate the small space of the confessional and lift up his unit in prayer. He was asking for strength for himself when the sound of footsteps made him halt mid-thought.
The other door opened and closed, sealing the parishioner inside.
Panic gripped his chest, stealing his breath and squeezing his heart. This wasn’t his parish. This wasn’t his church.
He shouldn’t be here. He was an imposter. An interloper. A sinner as in need of forgiveness as the other person who had come seeking it.
He’d been alone in the church when he’d entered the confessional. Whoever had come in didn’t know that Father Andrew had gone. He forced himself to stay silent. If they thought that no one was here, they’d leave him alone.
If he pretended to be asleep, maybe they’d torture someone else.
Just that fast, he was back in his pit, starved, dehydrated, with flea bites and burn marks covering his skin like the plague. He swallowed a whimper, choking on it, silently keening, praying to die.
The memory of Ilsa’s voice pulled him back from the hellhole of Iraq to awareness of where he was. The walls started to close in on him again. He reached for the door, intending to apologize and flee.
“Forgive me, Father. I’m sorry. I don’t know how this works.”
Father Vincent froze, recognizing the silken voice that had eased him from more than one episode and had slipped him into an altered state when she’d talked him into being hypnotized. He thought that he had imagined it, but Ilsa was here, on the other side of the screen.
Ilsa was here.