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Haunted hearts, p.10

Haunted Hearts, page 10

 

Haunted Hearts
 


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  A long time. Or rather, he’d never had much problem meeting pretty women in San Salvador and spending a night with them whenever he couldn’t ignore the urgings of his body any longer…but those women weren’t witches. They weren’t women he could ever imagine himself being with for more than an evening. So yes, he supposed it hadn’t been so long since he’d met someone who at least pretended to be friendly, maybe because she wanted him to buy her dinner or was simply suffering from the same needs he was, but a woman of his own kind? There hadn’t been anyone in Pico Negro who’d been friendly. None of the women around his age who were sufficiently distantly related to be possible matches had wanted anything to do with him. Could he blame them? He doubted that he would have wanted to be married to someone who could negate his magical powers with the snap of a finger.

  Elena was nice to him because she had no idea what he was. As soon as she learned the truth, he doubted she would be quite so friendly.

  After what felt like an hour but was probably no more than ten minutes, she came up to him with a basket laden with tubes of oil paint, brushes, a paintbox, linseed oil, and a small palette. The clerk tagged along like a faithful puppy, his arms full with a rough half-dozen canvases in various sizes.

  “Anything else?” he asked hopefully. Alessandro had no doubt that he was wishing Elena would announce she’d decided to go into sculpture as well, and so would need a whole new batch of materials.

  “No, I think that’s it,” she replied as she pulled her wallet out of her purse. “I think I’ve done enough damage for one day.”

  “Do you need any help with this?” Alessandro asked her in an undertone. He had no idea at all how much those art supplies would cost, but he guessed they couldn’t be cheap.

  She smiled even as she shook her head and handed a credit card over to the clerk. “No, I’ve still got some money on this — Ava set me up with a chunk before she left town.”

  He supposed it was good to know that her cousin had done at least a few things to take care of Elena before she disappeared with Gabriel to Pico Negro. Still, he doubted it had been an unlimited amount of money, and so he was glad that he’d paid for all the groceries the day before.

  To his relief, the transaction didn’t take very long, and a minute later, they were out the door, the clerk looking wistfully after them, as if he wished he could have thought of a way to keep Elena in the store a while longer.

  As soon as they’d stowed her purchases in the back and they’d gotten in their respective seats, she let out a peal of laughter. “Did you see that guy? Could he have been any more obvious?”

  “‘Obvious’?” Alessandro repeated, acting as though he didn’t understand the reference. He could guess what she was talking about, but he wanted to be careful just in case he’d misunderstood her.

  She chuckled again and shook her head. “I’ll admit I’m not the most experienced person in the world, but even I can recognize bad flirting when I see it. Too bad there weren’t any other store clerks around, or I would’ve tried to get someone else to help me.”

  Was that relief flooding through him? It definitely felt like relief, even though Alessandro tried to tell himself that it shouldn’t be any concern of his whether Elena was interested in someone or not…although he thought she could do a lot better than some scruffy-looking would-be artist who worked in an art supply store.

  Like you, I suppose, he mocked himself, then pushed the thought aside.

  “You could have called for me,” he said. “I could have come over and gotten him out of the way for you.”

  Her mouth lifted slightly at one corner. “Yes, you probably could. But it’s all right. He was annoying, but he knew his stuff, which is the important thing. I should have everything I need to get started.”

  Well, that was good news, he supposed. At least this trip hadn’t been a waste of time.

  “Good,” he said briefly.

  They were quiet for the rest of the drive home. Once they reached the house and were getting her purchases out of the cargo area in the back of the SUV, a sudden idea came to Alessandro.

  “Where were you going to paint?” he asked.

  Elena paused and glanced up at him. “I guess I hadn’t thought about it,” she said. “There’s plenty of room in the house, though. I’ll figure something out.”

  “I think you should use the office,” he suggested. “There would be space for you to work, and Ava gave me the password to the big computer there, so you could use it to watch video tutorials if you needed to.”

  Her face lit up. “Oh, that’s a great idea! Because yeah, I know I’m going to need to have someone guide me through it, and there are tons of instructional videos I can use to help walk me through everything.” For a second, it looked as though she might try to reach over and give him a hug, but then she seemed to realize that her hands were full and any display like that would have been awkward at best.

  Extremely awkward, he thought, and yet he couldn’t ignore the stab of disappointment that went through him as she turned, slung another bag over her arm, then attempted to reach for the pile of canvases.

  “I’ll get those,” he told her, and picked them up before he closed the lift gate. As they began to walk toward the house, he added, “I’m glad you think you can use the office. I won’t need it for anything.”

  “You’re sure?”

  “Yes. If I have to use the computer, I’ll let you know, but I didn’t have much use for one back in Pico Negro, so I don’t see why that would change now I’m in Santa Fe.”

  She nodded, looking thoughtful. “Okay.” A pause, and then she ventured, “Pico Negro must be very different from here.”

  That was for sure. “Very different,” he agreed, but left it at that.

  He didn’t want to tell Elena that a large part of the difference was the change he’d begun to sense within himself.

  8

  Considering hers and Alessandro’s rocky start, Elena hadn’t had high hopes for continuing domestic tranquility between the two of them, and yet as several days passed and they seemed to coexist smoothly enough without too much friction, she realized how well things really were going. They’d turned the office into her studio, protecting the floor and the furniture with drop cloths so she wouldn’t get paint on anything, and she made rapid progress, much quicker than she’d imagined she would. Maybe that was because of all the videos she watched and absorbed, like some kind of human art sponge, or maybe it was simply because she was happy.

  Happy. She’d had many times in her life when she’d believed that happiness was something which would always elude her. There had been moments here and there where she’d thought she might have achieved it — mostly when she was drawing, or when she and Belshegar were having one of their midnight convos — but she’d never expected happiness to be the sort of emotion she could experience in any kind of a sustained way. But here she was, sharing this house with Alessandro…and Victoria, who couldn’t seem to resist dropping in from time to time to see how the latest painting was going…and in general enjoying herself far more than she’d ever expected to.

  No one stopped in to check on them, to her infinite relief. She’d heard Alessandro on the phone with Miranda a few times, assuring the prima that all was well and that he liked the house very much. During one of those conversations, he’d also asked about Ava, and had gotten the report that she was doing well down in El Salvador and was busy planning her wedding.

  “And Miranda made it sound as if Ava and Gabriel might come here to Santa Fe so she can pick out her dress,” Alessandro said, reporting on the discussion to Elena, “but she had no idea when that would be.”

  “Later rather than sooner, I hope,” she replied. “Because you just know that Ava’s going to want to come check on the house, and then what am I supposed to do?”

  “Go back to the hotel,” he said reasonably. “Or at least, a hotel, if not the same one. It didn’t sound as if they’d be coming here to stay for any le
ngth of time. No need to, not when Gabriel can send the two of them back and forth in the blink of an eye.”

  Yes, that mode of travel sounded pretty convenient. No reason to worry about getting a hotel room when they could pop in and out instantaneously. Alessandro’s matter-of-fact statement helped to reassure her, although she still couldn’t help worrying — if only just a little — about Ava’s impending visit.

  But that was the only fly in the ointment…or at least, the only one Elena wanted to acknowledge. Alessandro had been friendly enough so far, but it was the sort of casual friendliness she could expect from a big brother, or from Belshegar, and she was starting to realize she wanted more than that from her unexpected housemate. She tried to tell herself that she found herself attracted to Alessandro just because he was available — well, at least, she assumed he was available, since he didn’t wear a wedding ring and he never mentioned anything about a girlfriend or a wife — not to mention good-looking. Besides, she’d never spent this much time around a man her own age and maybe would have fallen whoever was nearby, but those denials had already begun to ring hollow. If she’d manufactured the attraction, she shouldn’t have been able to feel her pulse speed up whenever he got a little too close, or thrill to the sound of his voice, husky and with that oh-so-sexy Salvadoran accent. In those moments, she was almost glad she was so inexperienced, that she’d never kissed anyone, because she wanted her first kiss to come from him.

  Like that was going to happen.

  But despite the slight discomfort of having to share the house with a man who didn’t seem at all interested romantically in her, she knew she was getting to live a life she’d barely allowed herself to imagine before. She could paint when she wanted, could go out in the garden and putter among the flowers, could eat Alessandro’s amazing food — and put in at least a half-hour each day in the home gym Ava’s brother Tony had left behind so she didn’t have to worry about all the calories she was consuming during those lavish meals.

  The only thing she couldn’t do was go shopping with Alessandro when he went out to replenish the food they’d consumed, but that was a minor niggle, especially since he did take her out several times to drive to picturesque spots outside Santa Fe’s city limits, like Tesuque to eat at the fun village market there, or over to Pecos so she could walk alongside the stream that flowed down from the mountains to the north, in a spot so lush and green, she knew she’d want to come back some time to paint when she felt ready to attempt plein air landscapes. These outings helped to soothe her restless spirit somewhat, but she still found herself wanting to do something more, although probably if asked, she couldn’t have said what.

  This whole time, she steadfastly refused to feel guilty for hiding out from her family. They’d spent the last eleven years torturing her in the name of safety, so it was about time the tables were turned and they had to suffer a bit themselves…if they were even suffering at all. Elena couldn’t help wondering if they were secretly relieved that she’d disappeared and they no longer had the burden of keeping her hidden away from the world. Oh, sure, maybe they’d worried at the beginning that she might summon a demon while hanging out at the local Walmart or something, but that kind of incident would have attracted attention no matter how much the Castillo clan might have tried to hush it up. Since no rampaging demons had been reported on the local news, they’d probably decided she was doing her best to keep a low profile and avoid notice of any kind.

  From the sound of it, Ava still hadn’t said anything to Miranda about how she and Gabriel had broken Elena out of her home in Las Vegas, but then again, there wasn’t any reason for the prima to have mentioned the incident to Alessandro. For all she knew, there were witches and warlocks on the alert all over Santa Fe, keeping an eye out for her…which of course was the whole reason why their outings had been to locations where the Castillos didn’t have much of a presence and there was a low probability that anyone from the clan would spot her.

  Because they were trying to lie low, she spent some time when she wasn’t painting looking around on the internet for other likely spots where she and Alessandro could escape the house for a few hours without having to worry about any kind of Castillo entanglement. And that was how she found out about Madrid.

  It sounded like a crazy little place, a former mining town down an obscure highway south of Santa Fe. If you kept going on that highway, eventually you’d hit Interstate 40 and could come into Albuquerque from the east, but Elena didn’t see any reason why she and Alessandro would have to make the loop. Door to door, it was maybe forty minutes to get down to Madrid, which apparently was pretty touristy. However, she very much doubted that any Castillos lived there, just because the settlement was so tiny that it would be almost impossible for a witch clan to hide their true nature in a place with so few residents.

  “I found someplace I think we should go,” she announced to Alessandro that night at dinner. “It’s not too far from here, but it sounds like a fun drive.”

  He’d been in the middle of dishing an enchilada — made with some of the leftover chicken molé — onto her plate, and finished the procedure before he set down the spatula and sent her a quizzical glance. “Where?”

  “It’s a place called Madrid.” Apparently, people here in New Mexico pronounced it with the emphasis on the first syllable, so she did that as well, earning her a lifted eyebrow.

  “That’s not how you say Madrid.”

  “It’s how you say this Madrid,” she retorted. “You don’t like it, take it up with the locals.”

  He grinned, his teeth a white flash against his warm-toned skin. Oh, how she loved that smile — and it had been making an appearance much more these past few days, as if he’d decided there wasn’t much point in continuing to be dour and grim-faced, not when she could tell he was beginning to relax and enjoy himself just as much as she was.

  “Okay, ‘Mad’-rid. So, what’s there that’s so interesting?”

  “There are shops and restaurants and art galleries.”

  “We have all that here in Santa Fe,” he pointed out.

  “You have all that here in Santa Fe,” she replied. “I’m basically under house arrest.”

  “And whose fault is that?” Alessandro took a bite of enchilada and washed it down with some Spanish garnacha. “You could call Miranda at any time and let her know you’re here.”

  Yes, that possibility had crossed Elena’s mind on more than one occasion, but every time she thought she would be able to muster the courage for such a conversation, she thought of what might happen — the prima calling her father and grandmother, and the two of them hauling her back to Las Vegas to imprison her in their house once again. After even this small taste of freedom, that was absolutely the last thing she wanted.

  Even worse would be having to say goodbye to Alessandro. Maybe he wouldn’t miss her…or at least, not very much…but she knew she’d sure as hell miss him. Already they’d fallen into an easy rhythm with each other, discussing any plans for the day, talking about what they’d have for dinner, even good-naturedly squabbling over what they’d watch on television, since he had a — to her, anyway — regrettable obsession with soccer.

  But she’d even put up with soccer for his sake. Besides, a lot of those players were hot.

  “I know that,” she said, her tone waspish. “But I don’t want to take that risk. Not yet, anyway. Maybe after Ava comes to Santa Fe and maybe tells Miranda more about what she plans to do with this house…then I’ll decide. For right now, though, I’d rather just maintain the status quo.”

  Alessandro watched her for a moment, dark gaze considering. Then he made a casual gesture with the hand that held his fork, as if to say, Your funeral. He’d already asked her whether she was troubled by her family worrying about her, and she’d brushed off the question, telling him that maybe they should have thought about that before they locked her up.

  “Okay,” he said. “Madrid. When do you want to go?”

  “T
omorrow,” she replied. “It’s Sunday — I figure it’ll be a little quieter than going on a Saturday, but unlike a weekday, when sometimes shops and restaurants might be closed because there aren’t as many tourists during the week, everything should be open.”

  “All right. What time?”

  “Late morning? We can get there for lunch and explore a little, then decide how long we want to stay.”

  He nodded. “That should work.”

  She smiled at him, relieved that he hadn’t put up much of an argument. Lately, he’d seemed awfully mellow, as if he’d gotten all of the asshole behavior out of his system early on and now had decided to relax. Elena supposed it was possible that he’d resolved to do his worst early on so she’d know what to expect. If that was the case, then the ploy had worked, because she really had thought they’d continue to bicker and rub up against each other’s rough edges as long as they shared this house, and so far that simply hadn’t happened.

  Of course, she hadn’t forgotten how he’d reacted when she tried to ask about his magical talent. However, she wasn’t stupid enough to bring up the topic again, not when they were getting along well. Her mind had picked at the mystery several times since then, but she couldn’t come up with a way to get any information out of him without it being blatantly obvious. Better to let it go, especially since, when you got right down to it, most witches and warlocks didn’t even use their powers on a daily basis.

  Well, unless you were her grandmother, whose ability to throw fireballs had come in pretty handy when it came to keeping Elena trapped on her property.

  She pushed that thought aside. After all, she’d escaped, thanks to Ava and Gabriel.

  And she would do whatever it took to make sure she never had to go back to Las Vegas.

 
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