Ritual Sins(3)

By: Anne Stuart

Luke simply nodded. “Not for long, Alfred. See if she’ll submit to purification before she approaches. What’s she wearing?”

“City clothes,” Alfred said with a dismissive sniff.

“Bring her some of our things. She’ll be more comfortable in them.”

“And if she refuses?”

“Then I’ll deal with it, Alfred. I always do.”

She’d refuse, of course, even though the ritual bath was simply the private use of a hot spring that was wonderfully enervating. She’d probably insist on cold showers during her stay. She’d refuse the loose cotton clothing that they all wore as well, but he’d see to that in good time. The phrase rang in his head, Strip her, bathe her, and bring her to my tent, and he smiled serenely.

“Blessings,” Alfred murmured, with no idea what his saintly leader was thinking.

“Blessings to you all,” Luke replied, lying back down again.

It had been three months since he’d been laid. He’d grown used to the long periods of celibacy—if he were to keep up the image of purity, then he had to be very careful how and when he took care of his needs when they became overwhelming.

But he’d learned to channel that frustrated sexual energy into a kind of burning power that reached out to everyone. And he lived inside that volcano, inviolate.

Santa Dolores was a safe haven for all, based upon trust and love and freedom. It also worked extremely well due to an advanced surveillance system that gave Luke visual access to certain rooms on the compound. He sat up again, alone in the pale, cavernous room, and rose. He would retire to his private meditation chamber, the one place where no one, not even Calvin, would disturb him. He would draw aside the thick black curtain and stare at the banks of television monitors. And maybe he might get a chance to see whether Rachel Connery was as pale and sour and skinny without her clothes on.

The first thing she noticed was that there were no children around. Apparently this cult catered to the unencumbered. The better to extort their money, Rachel thought. The main house of Santa Dolores was built along fittingly Southwestern lines—cool tile floors, adobe walls, plain dark wood on the windows and ceiling.

They’d put her in a room far at the end of one hallway. The woman who’d shown her there was pleasant enough, and to Rachel’s annoyance she didn’t appear to be particularly brainwashed, despite the pale cotton outfit she wore, which resembled a cross between men’s pajamas and a karate gi. She tried to press one on Rachel, something she flatly refused, and tried to lure her to a hot springs for purification.

“Not in the mood,” Rachel had drawled. “I took a shower this morning.”

“You’ll feel wonderful. Like a new person,” the woman, who’d identified herself as Leaf, said.

“I like the old person just fine,” Rachel said. “When do I see Luke?”

“When he’s ready. He spends most of the day in prayer and meditation. I’m certain he’ll grant you an audience as soon as he’s able. In the meantime he would want us to make you welcome at Santa Dolores.”

Rachel looked around her, at the plain walls, the kiva fireplace, the narrow bed with the white cotton coverlet. “Not very sybaritic, is it?” she observed.

“We aren’t here to indulge our senses,” Leaf replied. “We’re here to fine-tune them. To open ourselves to everything.”

“You can’t do that on a single bed.”

Leaf smiled at her. “We do not indulge in drugs, alcohol, sex, or any toxins. This is a place for purification and learning.”

“No sex?” Rachel echoed. “What about husbands and wives?”

“They welcome the chance to concentrate on their spiritual rather than their physical needs.”

“Great,” Rachel said. “My mother never spent a celibate week in her life.”

“Celibacy is not a requirement,” Leaf said. “It’s merely a suggestion. If we wish to follow the master, then we should emulate him.”

It took a second for this to sink in. “You’re telling me Luke Bardell is celibate?”

“Of course.”

“Of course,” Rachel echoed in disbelief. “You know, there’s a problem with celibate religions. No little followers to keep the faith going. The Shakers found that out.”