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Hidden gifts, p.12

Hidden Gifts, page 12

 

Hidden Gifts
 


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  So did I.

  I put my phone in my purse and told the Ryde, “We’re going to 318 Magdalena Road.”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  The car accelerated slightly, then jogged to the right so it could turn left on Alameda. After that, I lost track of all the twists and turns we made, although it seemed we were headed to an area that was located slightly to the north and east of the actual downtown area. The Ryde headed down a narrow street with large adobe-style houses on either side and came to a stop next to one of them, a two-story structure with autumn-bare aspens clustered around it. Most people probably would have wondered how a twenty-six-year-old man with an odd vocation could have afforded a place like this, but it was par for the course in witch families, especially for someone closely connected to the prima. Money was not a problem.

  My phone chimed, indicating that the Ryde had sent the bill to me. Since I had the app set up for auto-pay, I ignored the chime and got out of the car, then followed the sidewalk until it led me to the front door of the house. I could see a few lights inside, but the place still seemed dark and dim. What if Rafe wasn’t even home? He might have decided to work through his anger by getting together with some friends, going out to get something to eat, or a few beers.

  But I was here now, and I had to try.

  Before I could lose my nerve, I put my finger on the button for the doorbell and pressed it. At once I heard it ring inside the house. I held on to my purse with my other hand, hanging on to it for dear life as though it was a life preserver, the only thing keeping me from drowning.

  No one came to the door, and I pulled in a breath. I wasn’t that worried about being stranded here, because of course I could just call another Ryde and have it take me to the Castillo house on Gonzales Street. It would be an anticlimax, that was for sure, but I could always try again later. After all, just because Cat had given me her brother’s address, it didn’t mean she’d known for sure that he would be home.

  Then the door opened and Rafe stood there, staring down at me. In the dim light from the wrought iron and amber glass fixture next to the doorway, he looked very tall, very brooding. He said briefly, “Cat told me you were on your way over,” and stepped aside so I could enter the house.

  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his greeting. True, he hadn’t told me to get out, so that was a good sign, but on the other hand, he’d certainly sounded cold and curt. But then, what had I expected? For him to welcome me with open arms after I’d walked out on him?

  “Yes, I needed to get your address from her,” I said, then steeled myself to enter the house and walk past him.

  “This way,” he said. He shut the door and led me down a short corridor, into the living room. In contrast to the traditional adobe style of the home’s exterior, the furniture and art here was modern and spare, two couches of beige linen facing each other across a travertine coffee table. The only real color was in the brick-colored throw pillows on the couches and the abstract art on the walls. And yet, because of the honey-toned wood floors and the wooden beams on the ceiling above, the effect wasn’t cold, but subtly calming.

  I wondered if Rafe had decorated the place, or whether he’d hired someone to do it. No, I couldn’t imagine him relinquishing that kind of control to a decorator. Maybe to his sister, or someone else he really trusted, but not a stranger.

  “You want a glass of water?” he asked.

  Considering how dry my mouth was, water sounded like a good idea. “Yes, please.”

  “Go ahead and sit down. I’ll go get some.”

  Clearly, he didn’t want me to follow him into the kitchen. Since I knew I was on thin ice already, I didn’t try to ignore his request. Instead, I went and sat down on one of the couches, and clasped my hands on my lap. The air smelled faintly of wood smoke, as if he’d had a fire in here during the last couple of days. There was a rounded kiva-style fireplace in one corner, a well-stocked wood basket next to it.

  I wondered what the room would look like with a fire going, the flickering light from the flames dancing over the abstract art on the walls. Would the pictures seem to move, take on a life of their own?

  Rafe returned, a glass of water in either hand. He gave one to me, then sat down on the couch opposite the sofa where I was perched on the edge of the cushions. His expression was impassive and the light in the room dim, coming from several burnished steel sconces on the walls, so I really couldn’t get a read on what he was thinking.

  Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe I really didn’t want to know what he thought about me.

  He spoke first. “You want to tell me where you’ve been all afternoon?”

  “I — ” The syllable seemed to catch in my throat, and I drank some of the water Rafe had given me. “I was safe.”

  “That’s not a real answer.” He shifted on the sofa so he sat on the edge of the cushions, the same as I had, his hands clasped over one knee. Tension seemed to thrum along every limb, and his dark eyes glittered despite the room’s dim light. “We looked for you. Called my cousin Marco down from Taos, because his talent is finding lost objects, missing people. He couldn’t find you, and he’s never had a problem using his talent before. The ghosts downtown claimed they’d never seen you. It was like you’d disappeared into a black hole.”

  While all that was strange, and I had no ready answers for why I had been so difficult to locate, it didn’t change the fact that I’d been safe and nearby the whole time. “I was right here, in downtown. I was angry when I left the restaurant, and I thought a drink might calm me down. So I went to that tasting room over by the Lensic Theater. I met a friend there, and — ”

  “A friend?” Rafe cut in, still with that dangerous glitter in his eyes. “You just got here yesterday. You don’t know anybody in Santa Fe, except the people you met at the party last night, and they would have let me know that they’d seen you.”

  “Well,” I said disingenuously, “I know one person who isn’t a Castillo.”

  From the way Rafe stiffened, I knew that had been exactly the wrong thing to say. “Who is it?”

  This conversation was not going the way I’d planned — or hoped — but I knew I needed to be honest. There wasn’t any point in lying, anyway, because since I’d already told Rafe that I’d been in the tasting room by the Lensic, it wouldn’t be that difficult for him to visit the place and see who worked there. “His name is Simon. I met him on the Railrunner yesterday as I was coming up from Albuquerque.”

  None of this information seemed to mollify Rafe in the slightest. “Simon who?”

  “I don’t know his last name. I never asked. He lives here and goes to school in Albuquerque, at UNM, and he works part-time in the tasting room.”

  “So you went to see him because you were angry with me?”

  “No,” I said at once. I needed make him understand that I hadn’t purposely sought out Simon as a sort of refuge. “That’s not how it happened. We talked on the ride up from Albuquerque, but he never told me where he worked. I went in to get a glass of wine, and he was there. Total coincidence.”

  Rafe’s fingers tightened on the knees of his jeans. “There’s no such thing as coincidence.”

  “Well, in this case, there was.”

  Silence for a moment. I could see the way his eyes narrowed, and I guessed that he was trying to look for anything suspicious in what I had just told him. Well, he could look all he wanted, but he wouldn’t be able to poke holes in my story because I was telling him the honest truth.

  Then he said, “I’ve been to that tasting room several times, and I’ve never met anyone named Simon who worked there.”

  “Which proves what, exactly?” I shot back at him. “Places like that always have lots of part-time help. Just because you haven’t bumped into Simon doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a job there. Also, he’s only worked there for about six months. When was the last time you dropped in?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe close to a year. Some friends and I went there
right after they opened.”

  “Well, then.” Judging by the way Rafe had looked away from me, I could tell he didn’t like to admit the possibility that he might be wrong about Simon.

  “Still….” He reached for his glass of water and sipped, then put it back down on the table. No coaster, which went against all my upbringing, but it was his table. Besides, I doubted a few drops of water could hurt the travertine. “Maybe all that’s on the up and up. But I find it hard to believe that it took you more than seven hours to drink a glass of wine.”

  This was the part of the story I knew would probably bother him the most. However, I knew that I had to tell him the truth. “I was upset. I had a glass of wine, and then another after that. My stomach was empty. I got pretty wasted, so Simon let me crash upstairs at his place.”

  “You went to his apartment?”

  The question was asked in an even enough tone, but that dark glitter was back in Rafe’s eyes. I swallowed, then replied, “Yes. It’s upstairs from the tasting room. Nothing happened. I passed out on his couch, and he went back downstairs to finish his shift. I didn’t wake up until he came back to his apartment after he was done for the day. At that point, I did text Cat to let her know was okay, but I was starving, so Simon and I went across the street to El Sótano to have a quick dinner. After that I contacted Cat to get your address, and I came here. That’s the whole story.”

  “And you never thought to call her before that? She would have come to get you. Better that than sleeping it off in some strange guy’s apartment.”

  Put that way, it did seem as if I’d made one bad decision after another. Problem was, I’d been so far gone that the thought of reaching out to Cat hadn’t even crossed my mind. It had been about all I could do to make it to the refuge of Simon’s apartment, and I’d only been able to manage that much because he’d helped me up the stairs.

  Also, even though I would never admit this to Rafe, I guessed that, deep down, I hadn’t wanted to contact Cat because I’d known that I needed some time away from the Castillos. All of them, even the one person I’d begun to think might be a friend.

  “I’m sorry you were worried,” I said in a small voice. “I didn’t mean to upset you, or to cause any trouble. Please tell your cousin I’m sorry he had to come here to try to find me.”

  Rafe shrugged. “Marco? I think he was glad of the excuse to get out of Taos. He and Tony are going out to party tonight. I’m sure Marco will end up crashing on Tony’s couch.”

  This reply made me feel a little better about the situation, but despite his off-hand manner, it was obvious that Rafe was still angry, less than happy at the story I’d produced to explain my disappearance that afternoon. Driven by an impulse, I got up from the sofa and went to sit down next to him. His eyes widened in surprise, although he didn’t attempt to move away from me.

  Being this close to him, close enough that I could sense the heat of his body, made a little thrill go through me. My own body didn’t appear to have gotten the message that we always seemed to be at odds with one another, because every time I got close enough to Rafe, I reacted with little shivers, or a speeded-up heartbeat, or a flush of warmth. Certainly Simon didn’t cause me to respond in anything close to the same way. I felt some kind of attraction for him, but it was nothing like this, something visceral, something I couldn’t begin to explain.

  “I really am sorry,” I said.

  For a moment, he didn’t speak, didn’t move. But then he moved his hand so it could rest on mine, heavy, warm. A bracelet of leather cord and cut hematite beads glittered on his wrist. Had Cat made that for him, or had he picked it up in one of the shops downtown?

  “Don’t be,” he said at last. “You had every right to walk out. I was being an asshole.”

  “I don’t know — ” I began, but he shook his head.

  “Well, I do. I was so busy being wrapped up in how pissed off I was at my mother, at the whole situation, that I forgot you were caught in the same trap. And it’s worse for you, because you had to come to a strange place, had to uproot your life and leave everyone you knew behind.”

  This little speech was so close to what I’d told myself hundreds of times that tears suddenly stung my eyes. How could he be so compassionate, so understanding, and yet such a jerk at the same time?

  “Rafe, I — ”

  I didn’t have the chance to say anything else. He shifted on the couch so he faced me, then reached out and cupped my face in his hands, brought his lips to mine.

  The heat I experienced at his nearness was nothing compared to the flood of sensation that swept over me then. I’d never kissed anyone, had held myself as aloof as any prima-in-waiting who hadn’t yet begun to search for her consort, and right then I was glad I’d held back. I was glad, because my abstinence had meant that my first kiss would be shared with Rafe, the man who seemed to have awakened every nerve ending in my body, leaving me tingling and alive in a way I never had been before.

  After a long moment, he pulled away, his dark eyes watching me intently. I somehow knew he wanted me to be the one to speak first, to let him know if I was all right with what he’d just done.

  “Wow,” I said at last. Not terribly articulate, but I hoped that single syllable would be enough to tell him that it definitely was all right.

  “‘Wow’ is right,” he said with a smile. “I was looking at you, looking at how beautiful you are, and I realized how stupid I was for not kissing you before this.”

  “You were too busy being angry, I guess.”

  “Again, stupid.” He paused, then reached up to touch my hair where it fell over my shoulder. Another little shiver went through me, even more delicious than the first. “You’re not going to disappear on me like that again, are you?”

  “It depends,” I replied, slanting a look at him up through my lashes. “Are you going to be an emotionally distant jackass again?”

  To my relief, he chuckled. I hadn’t been sure how he would respond to that irreverent question, but it needed to be put out there. He needed to know that I might have come here meekly enough, following our parents’ wishes, and yet my actions didn’t mean that I intended to let him walk all over me.

  “I’ll try not to be,” he said. “I might backslide every once in a while, though — I’ve got about twenty years of resentment I need to work through.”

  “I’ll keep that in mind.”

  He smiled, and lowered his mouth to mine again. All the weariness and worry of the day seemed to disappear the second our lips touched. No, he wasn’t my consort, but close enough. Even these few kisses told me that our union could be almost as intimate, almost as deep.

  When he drew away from me as the kiss ended, however, the next words he spoke didn’t exactly inspire confidence. “What are you going to tell this Simon person?”

  Was Rafe jealous? I didn’t want to flatter myself, but then again, he wouldn’t be asking if he wasn’t concerned about the possibility of me seeing Simon in the future. “I already told him I was going to try to work things out with you. Oh, don’t worry,” I added quickly as I saw a flare of alarm work its way over his features. “I didn’t give any specifics. I’m not so stupid that I’d go blabbing about clan business. But it wasn’t too hard to talk about what was going on without bringing any witchy stuff into it.”

  His hand covered mine again. “Good. I mean, I trust you not to tell strangers what’s going on, but….”

  “But I’d had a lot to drink. I know. Still, nothing slipped out. He knows I was going to do my best to be with you.”

  “He must have been disappointed.”

  “I — I don’t know for sure. It’s not like anything was going on between us.”

  “I know it wasn’t. You told me. I believe you.”

  Three simple words, and yet they meant so much to me right then, especially after all our previous bickering. Some of my gratitude must have shown in my face, because Rafe reached out and pulled me close, holding me against his chest. He
didn’t try to kiss me, just kept his arms wrapped around me, let me listen to the strong, regular beat of his heart.

  It felt good. Because I’d made sure never to be intimate with anyone before now, I hadn’t realized exactly how good it would feel to be held like this, safe and warm and protected. I wanted the moment to last forever.

  Of course it didn’t. After a little while, Rafe let go of me, although he touched my hair as I drew away, as if to prolong the moment of contact.

  “I should probably take you back,” he said, and I blinked up at him, confused.

  “Back?”

  “To the casita.”

  “What if I don’t want to go back?” I wasn’t sure why I was being so bold, but I knew I wanted to stay here with him. I wanted him to kiss me again and again, to take me upstairs to his bedroom. We were already promised to one another, so what difference did it make when we slept together?

  “Oh, Miranda.” He touched my cheek, his fingers gentle, caressing. “Don’t tempt me. But I’d never hear the end of it if I didn’t do everything I could to make sure you were ‘pure’ on our wedding day.”

  I tilted my head at him and lifted an eyebrow. “Seriously? What year is it?”

  “The year doesn’t matter to my mother. And, considering how good she is at making your life miserable if you dare cross her, better to go along for now. It won’t be that long.” He bent and kissed me again, but very softly this time, barely more than a brush of his lips against mine. “Besides, it wasn’t so long ago that you seemed more interested in giving me a kick in the nuts than going to bed.”

  True enough. And intellectually, I understood the reason for his forbearance now. Witches and warlocks didn’t care all that much about virginity, unless you were talking about a prima, whose “purity” had to be maintained so she could bond correctly with her consort once he was found. Or I should say, McAllister and Wilcox witches and warlocks didn’t care all that much. The Castillos, on the other hand, were extremely Catholic.

  Did that mean Rafe was still a virgin?

 
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