Hidden gifts, p.10
Hidden Gifts, page 10
The corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and San Francisco Street where Cat hoped to find her ghost was occupied by a high-end clothing store. They didn’t go inside, but lingered on the corner, and Rafe could only be glad for that bit of discretion. He hated having to fend off salespeople.
But apparently Cat didn’t see any need to go into the store. She paused on the corner and drew her phone out of the backpack that served as her purse, pretending to be occupied with whatever was on its screen. Good idea — that way she wouldn’t look quite so crazy when she started talking to thin air.
“Alfonso,” she said, her voice low and clear. “Are you there?”
A long pause, during which Rafe could only stand off to one side and do his best to keep watch. None of the tourists passing by seemed to show much of an interest in the two of them, but you never knew. He’d seen his sister contact ghosts before, and so the experience had lost some of its novelty. Actually, in a lot of ways it was sort of boring, because of course he couldn’t actually see or hear what the ghosts were doing, could only observe his sister’s reactions.
Cat spoke after a long pause. “Hi, Alfonso. Yes, I know it’s been a while. I’ve been busy. And you?” Another pause. “Oh, well, I hope for your sake they decide not to go ahead with the remodel. I know that would be disruptive.” She was silent for a few seconds, then said, “Alfonso, my brother and I are looking for a friend. We were supposed to meet her down here, but she hasn’t shown up. We were wondering if you’d seen her.” A shorter pause this time. “She’s a little younger than I am, with long wavy brown hair and green eyes. She was wearing a green leather jacket. Did you — Are you sure…? Well, thanks, Alfonso. It’s okay. We’ll keep looking.” Disappointment was obvious in her expression as she turned to Rafe. “Alfonso says he hasn’t seen anyone like that today.”
“Sounds like it. He says he would have remembered her because green is his favorite color.”
And if it wasn’t to begin with, it might become a person’s favorite color after seeing the deep, moody green of Miranda McAllister’s eyes. Rafe wanted to shake his head at himself for that thought. If he’d spent a little more time letting himself get lost in Miranda’s eyes rather than trying to pick a fight with her, they wouldn’t be in this mess.
“Well, hell.” Rafe ran a hand through his hair and looked around, hoping against hope that he might see her somewhere in the crowds around them. “This was the most logical direction for her to go, based on where she seemed to be heading when she left the restaurant.”
“True, but she could have stayed on the same side of the street as the hotel, which means she wouldn’t have gone past Alfonso’s hangout.” Raising a hand to her eyes to shield them from the afternoon sunlight, she, too, looked around at their surroundings, clearly wishing she could see some trace of their lost McAllister witch. “Or she could have cut across San Francisco Street and gone directly to the Plaza. Maybe she went up to Palace Avenue to look at the shops there.”
“You have any ghostly friends in that area?”
Cat grinned. “Of course I do. Let’s go take a look.”
They waited for the light to change, then crossed back to where they’d started, and again so they’d end up in the Plaza. Despite the chilly air, plenty of tourists and locals out for an afternoon constitutional filled the walkways there. Once again Rafe scanned the crowds, but he didn’t see any sign of his wayward would-be wife.
They cut across the Plaza on the diagonal, ending up on Palace Avenue not far from the cathedral, and one of the restaurants their father owned. Rafe supposed he should have known there were some ghosts hanging out in the building, because the properties here also belonged to the family, but he had never asked his sister for a complete catalogue of Santa Fe’s ghosts. That would have been a lot to keep track of, and he’d always thought he had better things to do with his time. Now, though, he could only be glad of Cat’s otherworldly contacts, even though the last one hadn’t been of much help.
Once again she paused in a quiet spot and took out her phone as camouflage. Rafe pretended to look in the shop window, staring at the expensive Native American jewelry without really seeing it. What if Cat struck out here, too? How long would it take to interview all the ghosts in the area to see if any of them had spotted Miranda?
Cat was speaking in a low voice, reaching out to someone called Gabriela. Once again she asked the same question, whether the spirit who lingered in this area had seen someone matching Miranda’s description. It was easy enough to see that Miranda hadn’t come this way, either, judging by Cat’s responses to the ghost’s replies.
“Well, crap,” she said, after she thanked the unseen Gabriela and shoved her phone back in her purse. “Nothing here, either. It’s like she disappeared into thin air.”
If it had been anyone other than Miranda McAllister, Rafe might have entertained that as a possibility, since some witches and warlocks did have that talent, including her own parents. But Miranda was a nunca, someone with nothing more than the most basic of powers, like opening locks and touching flame to candles. She couldn’t disappear.
Did that mean the worst had happened? Had someone actually taken her?
Cat’s phone buzzed within her backpack/purse, and she pulled it out. The expression of worry she’d been wearing turned to one of relief as she read the words on the screen.
“Miranda?” Rafe asked, trying to quell the flare of hope that awoke within him.
“No,” Cat replied. “Marco. He’s just coming into town now, so he should be down here in a few more minutes.” She lifted the phone and typed in a quick text, then hit Send. “I told him where we are and to meet us here. We’ll have to hang tight for a few minutes.”
Hanging tight was the last thing Rafe felt like doing, but he knew if Cat’s ghosts weren’t going to come through for them, then their cousin Marco was their best hope. “He made good time,” he said, his tone neutral.
“Yes, he did. He must have sped the whole way. Or at least,” she added, “as fast as anyone can go through Española.”
Which wasn’t very fast, since the whole town seemed designed to catch you at every light. More than once pressure had been brought to bear to create a relief route for the little town in the Rio Grande Valley, just as had been done here in Santa Fe for those who didn’t intend to go into the heart of the city. But the local tribal elders kept putting their foot down, and so the traffic situation in Española remained pretty much as it was. Whenever he went to Taos, Rafe used the high road, which cut through the mountains and avoided Española altogether. Problem was, it really wasn’t any faster…it just felt that way.
He shrugged, and they fell into a waiting silence, Cat checking her phone again, as if she thought that Miranda might suddenly want to reach out and make contact. From the way his sister sighed and put her phone away, however, it was pretty obvious that she hadn’t received any useful information.
The chimes in the cathedral began to boom. One…two…three…. Hard to believe that it had been three hours since Miranda had stormed out of the restaurant. What on earth could she have been doing all that time?
“Too bad we can’t hack into Ryde, see if she went someplace else,” he said. For all they knew, Miranda had given up on the Plaza and its surrounding shops hours ago, and had gone to the Railyard to watch a movie in the theater there.
Cat made a derisive noise. “We’re witches, Rafe, not the NSA.”
It would have been more useful if they had been government agents. Right now they could only rely on the motley talents that had been with them since birth. He had to hope that Marco’s gift would be more useful than Cat’s had turned out to be.
And there was his cousin now, coming down the street from the direction of the parking lot behind Rafe’s father’s restaurant. Probably Marco had taken advantage of one of the Castillo clan’s reserved spots, rather than hunting for street parking.
“Hey,” he said as he approached
Nodding, Rafe got out his phone and found one of the images of Miranda that his mother had emailed to him. The photo had been taken somewhere outside, maybe in Sedona, since you could see red rocks and blue, blue skies off in the distance. Miranda was smiling, looking very different from the guarded young woman Rafe had met only yesterday.
Marco’s lips pursed, as if he wanted to whistle and then realized that sort of reaction probably wouldn’t be met with much enthusiasm. “Okay, got it,” he said. His eyes shut, and Rafe guessed his cousin must be reaching out with his talent, trying to find the girl he’d just seen in the picture.
Cat moved a little closer to their cousin, doing her best to block him from the people passing by. Good idea. Rafe shifted his position slightly as well, shielding him from those who were coming down Palace Avenue and heading to the Plaza. If someone came right up to them, of course they’d still be able to see a man standing there in front of the store, eyes closed, but at least the casual observer probably wouldn’t notice anything particularly strange about what Marco was doing.
Then his eyes opened, and he shook his head. “I’m not getting anything.”
Rafe tried to ignore the worry that surged in him once again. “What do you mean, you’re not getting anything? I thought your gift was for finding lost people, missing stuff.”
“It is.” Marco glanced from Rafe to Cat, possibly hoping she’d come to his defense. “I’ve never had this happen before. If I know what something looks like, I know how to find it, even if it’s far away. When I shut my eyes, it’s like I can see where the thing I’m looking for is, and I just know. But right now?” His chubby shoulders lifted. “I got nothing. I don’t know what to say.”
Cat put on a sympathetic smile. “Can you try again? Should we go someplace quieter? Maybe all these people are distracting you — ”
“No,” Marco said at once. “I’ve never had a problem like that. Hell, I found the diamond out of my Aunt Sophia’s wedding ring at her daughter’s quinceañera, and there were hundreds of people at that party, stomping all over the dance floor. But I suppose I can try again, just in case.”
“Please,” Cat said.
Marco’s eyes closed again, and Rafe saw the way his cousin pulled in a deep breath, trying to center himself, trying to tap into the power he’d been given. A minute passed, an excruciating one during which Rafe didn’t even want to move for fear he might interrupt the waves or whatever it was that sent the pertinent information into Marco’s brain.
But then he shook his head. “Nope, sorry. When I try to think of your girl, all I see is swirling darkness. She’s just not there.”
Hell. Rafe jammed his hands in his pockets, attempting to push back against the wave of despair that went over him upon hearing his cousin’s words. Cat’s ghosts hadn’t seen Miranda, and now Marco the infallible object-finder had also fallen down on the job. It was as though she’d disappeared completely from the face of the planet. Once again Rafe thought of how Miranda’s parents could teleport. Had she called them, told them how she’d been treated? Maybe they’d come to fetch her away.
That seemed the most likely explanation. Actually, he hoped that was exactly what had happened, because even though today’s events would paint him in a very bad light with the Arizona witch clans, at least if Miranda was with her parents, then she was safe.
Of course, that begged the question as to what he should do now. He didn’t have the Arizona clan leaders’ contact information, which meant he’d have to get it from his mother. Which meant she would then find out what had happened…which meant she would be royally pissed off.
Terrible as it sounded, it might be better if he didn’t do anything right away. Surely if Miranda had gone home with her parents, they’d reach out at some point to let Genoveva know the marriage was off. He’d still have to deal with the fallout, but he would have gained a little time to figure out how to deal with it.
And what if she isn’t home? he thought then. What if someone has taken her? What if she’s hurt, frightened?
Damn it. He didn’t want to think about that. No, she had to be okay. Even if she wasn’t, what could he do about it? He’d done his best to find her. He could go to Genoveva right now and tell her the whole sordid story, and there probably wasn’t anything else she could do, either. Not if Marco’s gift was useless. Not if Santa Fe’s resident spirits hadn’t seen a damn thing. Rafe had never heard of someone’s magical talent failing so utterly, and that it was happening now made Miranda’s disappearance all the more upsetting.
Where the hell was she?
“It’s okay,” Rafe said at length, knowing that both Cat and Marco were watching him, waiting for him to respond. “Thanks for trying.”
Rafe knew he should offer something to his cousin as a thank-you for driving all the way down here — at least buy him a beer or something — but he didn’t feel like doing that. All he wanted to do was go home and see if he could figure out what to do next. He needed some peace and quiet. The noise in the street here was starting to make him crazy.
“Thanks, Marco,” Cat said. “Do you want to grab something to eat?”
Oh, God no. Even though he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, Rafe was pretty sure he couldn’t handle going out for a mid-afternoon snack with their cousin.
“No, I’m good,” Marco replied. “I called Tony and told him I was coming down here. We’re going to try this new brewpub he found out in Tesuque.”
“Sounds like fun,” Cat said. She was still smiling slightly, although the expression made her face look strained, as though she was doing her best to keep that smile from cracking into a thousand pieces.
“Hope so.” Marco glanced over at Rafe. “Again, I’m sorry, man. I hope you find your girl.”
He waved at both of them before turning and heading back to where his car was parked. As soon as he was out of earshot, Cat said, “What now?”
“I don’t know,” Rafe replied dully. “I just don’t know.”
Oh, Goddess, my head was killing me. I sat up on the couch and looked around the unfamiliar room, a panic-induced adrenaline rush moving through me as I tried to remember where the hell I was.
Then I saw Simon come toward where I sat, a glass of water in his hand. He didn’t try to sit down on the sofa, but only extended the water to me.
“Are you doing better?”
“I don’t know.” I took the water from him with a shaking hand and gulped it down, my body as dehydrated as though I’d just walked fifty miles in dry desert heat. The water didn’t exactly get rid of the headache, but the pain did settle down to a dull pounding. “Maybe.”
Facing the sofa was a plain wood cross-back chair with a blue cushion. Simon picked it up and moved it a little closer to the couch, then sat down. “I didn’t like leaving you here, but I was the only person scheduled to work this afternoon, so — ”
“It’s okay,” I cut in. “All I did was sleep.” And I must look like hell, too, after spending five hours passed out on some strange guy’s sofa.
“Well, it seems to have helped a little. I — I’m sorry about what happened,” he added, the words coming out in a rush. “If I’d known the wine would affect you like that, I never would have poured you a second glass.”
I frowned. “It really shouldn’t have,” I said. “I mean, it’s not like it was my first drink or something — my parents let me have wine at home, as long as I didn’t get carried away.” I sighed, thinking of those family meals at the big table, which had felt a lot bigger the last few years, with both Ian and Emily settled and moved into their own homes. But it had still been fun with only my parents and me, because
Thinking about home probably wasn’t a very good idea. Just the memory of our dining room in the Jerome house, with the wrought-iron chandelier overhead and the sideboard flickering with candles, made a sharp ache start somewhere in my chest. It couldn’t be a heart attack, because I was way too young for that sort of thing. No, the discomfort was something much more mundane, but no less painful.
I really hadn’t thought I would be this homesick. I’d thought I would come to Santa Fe and become part of the Castillo clan, and they would become my new family. Not once had I entertained the idea that Rafe might reject me, that I wouldn’t fit in at all. Faced with that unhappy reality, I wasn’t sure what I should do next.
“It was probably that you hadn’t eaten anything,” Simon said. He rubbed his chin, then added, his tone diffident, “Can you eat now? Because I think it would be a good idea…if you can manage it.”
There was a question. I drank a few more sips of water and sat quietly, doing my best to assess my current condition. Although my head hurt, it seemed to be rapidly improving, and the water didn’t appear to have upset my stomach. In fact, thinking about my tummy seemed to have woken it up, because it came alive then, letting me know in no uncertain terms that it needed food, and now.
“I could eat,” I said cautiously. Was he asking me out to dinner?
Apparently he was, because he said, “Then let’s go to El Sótano. It’s less than half a block from here, and the food’s good.”
“Okay,” I replied. Even as I agreed, I inwardly vowed that I would pay for this meal. I knew Simon wasn’t exactly rolling in cash, and I could afford to cover our dinner. Besides, I owed him one. He’d made sure to get me someplace safe where I could sleep off my weird drunk. Some guys would have just let me walk out of that wine tasting room to fend for myself.
by Christine Pope / Romance / Science Fiction & Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes