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Haunted hearts, p.1

Haunted Hearts, page 1

 

Haunted Hearts
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Haunted Hearts


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  HAUNTED HEARTS

  Copyright © 2019 by Christine Pope

  Published by Dark Valentine Press

  Cover design by Lou Harper

  Ebook formatting by Indie Author Services

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems — except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews — without permission in writing from its publisher, Dark Valentine Press.

  Don’t miss out on any of Christine’s new releases — sign up for her newsletter today!

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Also by Christine Pope

  About the Author

  1

  Elena Salazar stared down at the bag that sat on the bed in her room at the La Fonda and wondered — for what felt like the hundredth time — if she really was doing the right thing. Yes, six days had passed since her cousin Ava hid her in this luxurious room at the five-star hotel in downtown Santa Fe, but technically, Elena’s reservation was good for another four days. Besides, the cash Ava had given her would allow her to extend her stay for at least four or five more days, possibly longer than that if she really watched how she spent her money.

  Problem was…in all those six days, she hadn’t heard a thing from Ava. True, Ava had her own problems to deal with — running off to El Salvador to help her true love defeat the evil leader of the Escobar clan didn’t exactly sound like a walk in the park — but still, Elena thought she should have heard something from her cousin by now. What if the unthinkable had happened, and Ava and Gabriel had failed? What if they were captured, dead…something worse?

  Elena wasn’t sure what would be worse than death, but she supposed if such a thing existed, Gabriel’s older brother was probably the sort of person who would have figured it out.

  The logical thing to do, of course — since Ava was in a jungle in Central America and therefore not reachable by cell phone — would be to follow her cousin’s instructions and go to Miranda, the Castillo clan’s prima, and plead her case. The problem was, Elena didn’t know Miranda. How could she trust her to do the right thing? Yes, Elena had had every reason to flee the repressive household where she’d been kept locked away from the world ever since her talent had emerged at the age of eleven. But would Miranda see it that way, or would she agree with Elena’s father and grandmother that anyone with the ability to summon demons at the snap of her fingers needed to be kept safely away from the rest of the clan, not to mention the rest of the world?

  Elena definitely didn’t want to take that risk. Now that she’d had a taste of freedom, she knew she’d do whatever was necessary to make sure she didn’t get locked up like that again.

  The idea had come to her only the night before, when she’d come back to the hotel after spending an evening at the movies. She had a feeling that venturing as far as the theater in the Railyard area of Santa Fe a little west of downtown wasn’t exactly what Ava had had in mind when she’d told Elena that it should be all right to roam around the Plaza and its environs, but there was only so much shopping she could do, and dining alone had begun to pall as well. The movie theater had seemed like a safe enough option, especially since she’d taken a self-driving car to and from the venue, and had made sure to hurry into the auditorium as quickly as she could to avoid possible contact with any Castillo witches or warlocks who might also have decided to go to the movies that night.

  At any rate, as Elena entered her hotel room and closed the door behind her, she’d thought about her cousin and her complete radio silence, and whether anyone in the clan had heard from her. Ava had left behind a life here, after all, a family and a house and….

  A house.

  Elena knew the house, since that was where Ava and Gabriel had first brought her after they helped her escape from her own home in the quiet little town of Las Vegas, about an hour and a half outside Santa Fe. They’d needed her help to summon a demon. All right, he wasn’t really a demon, was actually an extra-dimensional being named Belshegar, but it was in Ava’s big, meticulously maintained Victorian house that Elena had called to Belshegar, had asked him to come to this world so he could restore Gabriel’s powers, which had been taken away by the Escobar clan’s elders. And because she’d been there, Elena knew exactly where the house was located…and also that it had been sitting empty for nearly a week now.

  Ava wasn’t using it, so she shouldn’t mind if Elena did…right? It would be like housesitting.

  At first, Elena had dismissed the idea as absolutely crazy, but as she’d lain in bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to go to sleep, the notion kept pinging around her brain, not leaving her alone. Why shouldn’t she go crash at Ava’s house? Really, Ava should have suggested that solution in the first place. Maybe she’d been worried that someone would stop by the house, find Elena staying there, and raise the alarm, but the chances of discovery here at the La Fonda were nearly as great, weren’t they?

  In the end, she’d decided to go for it. The worst that might happen would be if someone found her staying there, in which case she’d have to go and talk with the prima after all. But if no one discovered her, then Elena would be able to conserve what was left of the money Ava had given her while she decided what to do next. It would be yet another stopgap, only one that cost a hell of a lot less than this fancy hotel room.

  Now that the time had come, however, doubt assailed her once again. It wasn’t too late to abandon the plan and stay here, since it was a little before ten in the morning and checkout time wasn’t until eleven, but….

  Without thinking, she reached down and grasped the handle of her overnight bag and lifted it from the bed. She’d spent almost half her life trapped in her family’s home in Las Vegas, and she somehow knew if she didn’t go for this now, she’d never have the courage to do anything so crazy again.

  In other words, nut up or shut up.

  She left the room and closed the door behind her. The sound had an element of finality to it, but Elena told herself that was good. It meant she was done with this odd little interval in her life, this transition between who and what she’d been before and whoever she was meant to be.

  Although she had absolutely no idea who that person was.

  Down the stairs and into the lobby, and across the crowded space to the front desk. The line there was long, which felt somewhat anticlimactic, but after a few minutes, she was able to approach one of the clerks, a man probably about ten years older than she was, with a kind, thin face.

  “Your reservation has you staying here until the fifteenth,” he said as he took the plastic key card from her.

  “I know,” Elena replied, wondering if that was going to be a problem. Were they going to charge her for those unused days? She’d never stayed at a hotel before, so she really didn’t have any idea how this was all supposed to work. “Is that okay? Um…something’s come up.”

  “No, it’s fine,” he said at once. “We can use the room — this is a
busy time of year, and there’s a waiting list. Was everything to your satisfaction?”

  Actually, it was — everything from the room itself to the spa services the hotel offered to the wonderful food in the restaurant downstairs. “Perfect,” she said, and the man smiled, clearly relieved that whatever was sending her away early, it had nothing to do with the hotel.

  A few minutes later, she was back in one of the self-driving cabs that roamed the downtown area looking for fares. Since she’d made a note of the address when Ava and Gabriel first brought her to Ava’s house, it was simple enough to lean forward and say, “112 Hillside Avenue,” and let the cab whisk her away from the La Fonda to her destination, her palms moist with nervousness and her heart thumping at the audacity of what she was doing.

  The house actually wasn’t that far. Elena guessed she could have walked, except that doing so would have been a bit too conspicuous, especially with the overnight bag she was carrying. What if a Castillo cousin had driven past and noticed her? Okay, they couldn’t have actually recognized her, since no one in the Santa Fe branch of the clan had even seen her since she was eleven years old, but still, they might have been able to detect she was witch-kind, and wonder who in the world she was. Better to hide in the cab, then leap out and hurry inside the house before anyone noticed what she was up to.

  Which was basically what she did. She let the self-driving cab scan the prepaid credit card Ava had given her, then hopped out of the back seat, overnight bag clutched in her hand, as she trotted up the front walk and then climbed the three steps to the porch. Of course, she didn’t have any keys, but that was no impediment to a witch; she laid her hand on the latch and felt it give way beneath her fingers a second before the door opened silently inward.

  Heart pounding, she went inside, then closed the door behind her and locked it — as a precaution against any civilian intruders, not because she thought a locked door would keep out a Castillo witch or warlock. The entry hall was just as she remembered it, the oak floor shiny, the small chandelier that hung from the plaster ceiling scattering sparks as the early morning light touched it. From where she stood, Elena could see a light film of dust on the dark cherrywood side table, but otherwise, everything looked fine.

  And I’ll dust, she vowed as she moved forward into the interior of the house. Dust and vacuum and take care of all the other cleaning. Maybe Ava won’t consider that a fair trade, but at least it’ll show that I cared, that I didn’t come here to hang out and trash the place.

  With that resolution in mind, Elena mounted the stairs, thinking she might as well figure out where she was going to stay. When she’d been here before, it had been for less than an hour and she’d only seen the downstairs, so she had no idea how many bedrooms the house actually contained. It looked big — a lot bigger than the farmhouse-style home where she’d grown up in Las Vegas — but sheer size didn’t always mean there would be a lot of individual rooms to choose from.

  However, she was relieved to see that the upstairs level had four bedrooms in all. She wouldn’t sleep in the master — that would have seemed awfully presumptuous — and one room was being used as an office and another as a workout space, but the fourth bedroom had clearly been set aside for guests, with its tall, narrow bed and fussy antiques.

  Looking in, Elena let out a sigh of relief, then moved farther into the room and set her bag down on the bed. It felt dark in there, but that was only because the drapes had been pulled tight. Her first impulse was to fling them open…and then she stopped herself, realizing that if anyone was paying any real attention to the place, they’d notice those open drapes and wonder if Ava had come back. No, she’d have to leave them shut, since this room faced out on the street. Maybe she could open some windows at the back of the house.

  Her overnight bag contained far more clothing than it had when she’d run away from her home in Las Vegas, since she’d done probably more shopping than she should in the boutiques that surrounded the hotel and the Plaza. Just another reason why saving some money now was a good idea. Even so, she couldn’t help smiling a little as she hung up her new clothes or put them away in the tall antique dresser. It had been so much fun to buy new, pretty things; her grandmother had chosen everything she’d worn in the past, since she’d barely been able to leave the house, and her clothing had been plain and dark, utilitarian.

  Now that she thought about it….

  Elena unbuttoned the dark blouse she’d been wearing, exchanging it for a bright turquoise sleeveless top with some embroidery around the neckline. A pair of turquoise earrings and a ring to match, and she already felt much better about life. After she hung up the blouse — she’d only worn it for a few hours, so it seemed wasteful to put it in the hamper…not that she even knew where the hamper was — she cast a quick glance over the room, satisfied that it looked neat and tidy.

  Time to go downstairs and explore.

  She remembered the living room, since that was where she’d summoned Belshegar. For a moment, she considered calling him to her now, just because it would be nice to have someone to talk to. However, since she had a feeling he’d have a few choice words on the subject of her staying here uninvited, she decided against that plan. Sooner or later, he’d probably find out what she was up to, but why have him get all parental on her until absolutely necessary?

  The family room was a cozy space with a nice big television and a couch that looked perfect for curling up on. Elena picked up the remote and turned on the TV, and was relieved to find that both the electricity and the cable seemed to be on and functioning. Probably, Ava hadn’t thought to turn anything off before she headed down to El Salvador, although at some point, Elena knew she’d have to get the utility situation straightened out.

  Just not today, thank God.

  She peered into the kitchen to find it clean as well, although there were a few plates in the dishwasher, as if Ava and Gabriel had eaten breakfast here before they headed out on their long journey. Well, she’d take care of those, too.

  Not a lot of food in the refrigerator, but she knew she could order groceries online and have them delivered, so that wasn’t a problem. The cupboards likewise seemed pretty bare, as if Ava had never been the type to keep much food around. Luckily, Elena had had a big room service breakfast before she left the hotel, so she wasn’t remotely hungry yet. And again, she could simply order some takeout and have it delivered.

  As she’d hoped, the kitchen faced out on the backyard, which was large and full of riotous flowers, bright and cheerful under the early summer sun. It looked as though there was a detached garage out back, one that connected to an alleyway of some sort. This made the setup quite private, and so she felt safe enough opening the blinds in the room to let the sun pour in.

  “Ahem.”

  Elena whirled and saw a woman possibly a few years older than she standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Her hair was a warm chestnut brown and she was very pretty, but the thing that really made you want to stare at her was the elaborate blue silk bustle gown she wore.

  Well, that, and the extra little detail of her floating an inch off the floor and being ever so slightly transparent.

  “Um…yes?” Elena said, trying to sound calm although her heart had started to pound like crazy. She told herself that anyone who summoned demons the way other people might order pizza had no reason to be frightened of a ghost, but she wasn’t sure if she actually believed that inner reassurance.

  “Who are you?” the ghost demanded, in a voice that sounded as real as Elena’s own. “What are you doing in Ava’s house?”

  “I’m Elena Salazar,” she replied. “I’m Ava’s cousin. She said I could stay here while she was out of the country.”

  A sniff as the ghost stared at her through slightly narrowed eyes. “She did?”

  “Yes,” Elena said. Then, figuring the story could use a little embellishment, she added, “Ava doesn’t really know when she’s going to be back, so I could be here for a while.”

/>   This remark didn’t seem to go over very well with the ghost. Frowning, she tartly said, “Is it too much to ask that you Castillos could settle down in one place for a decent amount of time? First it was Tony, and then his sister, and now you. Am I to expect any further changes of residents in the near future?”

  That was a very good question. Since Elena had no idea how long she’d be able to hide out here, she could only give a helpless shrug. “I don’t — I don’t know.” She hesitated, then asked, “Who are you?”

  “I am Victoria Fairhaven. This is my house.”

  No missing the emphasis on “my.” Whoever Victoria was, and however she’d died, obviously she had no intention of clearing out any time soon. Judging by the gown she wore, Elena thought the ghost had to have been here for well over a century.

  Choose your battles, she thought, then smiled. “Well, Victoria…it’s very nice to meet you.”

  Alessandro Escobar knew trouble was brewing. No one had said anything to his face, but he’d lived in the village of Pico Negro his entire life, knew each and every member of the Escobar witch clan as well as he knew himself. Yes, everything should have been calm and quiet, peaceful now that Vicénte, the former leader of the clan, had been removed from power by his far more talented — and, luckily for the Escobars, much less cruel — younger brother Gabriel, and yet Alessandro saw the way people wouldn’t meet his eyes, how they cast their gaze somewhere else whenever he crossed their path.

  One could have argued that he should be used to such things, that as a warlock who possessed the odd and thankfully rare null talent — a talent that allowed him to suppress the power of any other warlock or witch in his vicinity — he should have grown accustomed over the years to being something of a pariah. This was different, though. Something about these sidelong glances felt different…smelled different.

 
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