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Hidden gifts, p.13

Hidden Gifts, page 13


Hidden Gifts

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Despite the intimacies we’d just shared, I didn’t think I was up to asking that question. I’d made sure to keep a careful distance between myself and any guys who’d seemed remotely interested, and I didn’t want to know if Rafe hadn’t practiced that same forbearance.

  “All right,” I said. “You can take me back to the casita and maintain my purity so your mother doesn’t freak out. But I’m not going to wait around forever.”

  “Neither am I,” he replied, his gaze lingering on my lips. “And if I know my mother, she’ll kick things into high gear as soon as we give the word.”

  I assumed by “high gear,” he meant that the wedding preparations would be set into motion. Another little shiver went through me, but this time one of worry rather than arousal. No matter how much I liked kissing Rafe, knew that we were intended for each other, the thought of being married in the very near future stirred a flicker of anxiety within me. Marriage was a big deal. In the witch clans especially, marriage was supposed to be forever.

  And although I tried to reassure myself that my reactions to Rafe only proved we were supposed to be together — witches and warlocks had a better chance of finding their “one” than most people did — I wondered if it was a good thing to rush the whole process. Going to bed was one thing, but once we were married….

  “Then I suppose it’s better if I get a good night’s sleep,” I said lightly, doing my best to push my worries aside.

  “Exactly.” He got up from the couch, extended a hand to help me get to my feet. I really didn’t need the assistance, but it was nice to see that small gentlemanly gesture from him.

  We left the living room and turned down a short hallway that ended in a door. On the other side of that door was the garage, with Rafe’s ancient Wrangler sitting in solitary splendor in the middle. Without speaking, we both got in, and he opened the door and backed out.

  The drive from his place to his mother’s compound only took about five minutes. I was glad of his presence, glad that I wouldn’t have to come back here by myself, sneaking in like a thief in the night.

  He held my hand as we let ourselves in through the gate and headed toward the casita. Solar lights picked out the path, so it wasn’t that difficult to find our way.

  Unfortunately, the path was blocked before we’d even gone ten paces. Standing there was a very angry Genoveva, her arms crossed, a dark cape thrown over her shoulders to ward off the nighttime chill.

  “I hope you have an explanation for all this,” she said.



  Even with the reassuring pressure of Rafe’s fingers on mine, I couldn’t prevent a stab of fear from moving through me. Genoveva did look very forbidding as she stood there and blocked our way, the dark cape flowing from her shoulders, her features harsh in the dim light of the solar lamps that lined the path.

  However, it seemed that Rafe was used to this sort of thing, because he only smiled and said, “An explanation for what? Miranda was over at my place. I just drove her home. Wasn’t the whole point that you wanted us to spend time together?”

  Genoveva’s lips thinned. In the semidarkness, the dark lipstick she wore looked almost black. “She might have been at your house just now, but she certainly wasn’t there all afternoon. I heard how she disappeared.”

  Oh, hell. I risked a quick glance up at Rafe, but his expression hadn’t changed. He still wore a faint smile, one side of his mouth quirked slightly higher than the other. No doubt he’d had years of playing cat and mouse with his mother.

  “She needed to cool off for a while,” he said. “My fault entirely — I was being a jackass. But she’s fine, as you can see. We’ve worked everything out. It’s all good.”

  “I hardly think that disappearing for hours and hours, and having to call your cousin Marco down from Taos to help out, can be classified as ‘good.’” Her gaze moved from Rafe to me, and I made sure I stood there tall and straight, my chin lifted. I might not have had any more powers than your run-of-the-mill civilian, but I was still the daughter of a prima and a primus; I wasn’t about to let Genoveva Castillo cow me. “Where did you go, Miranda?”

  “I was downtown the whole time,” I replied. Even if Genoveva was somehow magically able to detect a lie, she wouldn’t be able to find fault with that reply.

  “Doing what?”

  “This and that.” The prima might have been Rafe’s mother, but she wasn’t mine, and I was damned if I was going to allow her to give me the third degree when I hadn’t done anything wrong. There was no need for me to feel like some kid caught sneaking back into her room after breaking curfew. “None of your business, frankly. Rafe doesn’t have a problem with how I spent my afternoon, and neither should you.”

  His smile was gone now, replaced by a faint expression of shock, as if he’d never before witnessed someone talking back to his mother in such a way. Maybe no one had…except him, that is. Apparently Genoveva wasn’t too happy with me, because her mouth tightened and she said, “That may be. However, you should learn some respect, young woman. I am the prima of this clan.”

  “And I’m the daughter of a prima. Maybe you should show me some respect as well.” Before she could reply, I turned to Rafe and said, “I’m getting cold. I think we’d better get to the casita.”

  He nodded and took me by the arm. “We’ll discuss this later…Mother.”

  Her face was pale in the darkness. “There is nothing to discuss. Since you two seem to be getting along so well, I’ll go ahead and get the preparations moving. I think a sunset wedding on Sunday should do very well.”

  After delivering that salvo, she stalked off toward the house, her back stiff as a ramrod.

  Rafe shook his head. “That’s my mother. Always has to have the last word.”

  “Did she really mean it?” My voice was very small.

  “Oh, she definitely meant it. Hey,” he added, bending down so he could kiss me on the cheek, “it’s going to be fine. You want this, don’t you?”

  I thought I did. All I had to do was recall the way I’d felt when he kissed me, and it seemed as if I couldn’t ask for anything more in the world than to be married to Rafe Castillo. It was why I had come here, after all. What I was feeling now was simply nerves, and probably some anticipatory stage fright at the thought of having to stand up in front of all those Castillos and not completely botch my part of the ceremony. I’d been to plenty of weddings, but we McAllisters were kind of a freewheeling bunch. Getting married to Rafe in the splendor of Loretto Chapel — for I had no doubt that the service would take place in no less grand a spot than that — was an entirely different proposition.

  “Yes,” I said. “It’s just…can she really pull together a wedding in two days?”

  “Oh, yeah,” he replied, his tone somewhat grim. “You haven’t really seen my mother in action yet.”

  I didn’t answer, only shook my head and let him lead me toward the casita. The light next to the front door was on, although everything looked dark within. Rafe touched his hand to the latch, and the door swung inward. A moment later, several of the lamps in the living room flared to life.

  “I’ll leave you here,” he said softly. “If I go inside, I’ll be way too tempted to stay. But I’ll come by in the morning and take you to breakfast, get you fortified.”

  “Fortified for what?” I asked, although I thought I already knew the answer.

  “God, let me think…dress fittings, cake tastings, you name it. My mother’s had everything lined up for months. I’m sure she’s calling the bishop right now to confirm the time for Sunday afternoon.”

  My head was spinning. “You sure do know how to reassure a girl,” I said, my voice shaky.

  “You’ll be fine. And Cat will be with you the whole time. She’ll help you out.”

  That piece of information did make me feel a bit better. I didn’t think I’d be able to survive a day alone with Genoveva Castillo, but Cat’s presence should make the experience bearable…although I doubted it
would be much fun.

  Rafe bent and kissed me, a deep, thorough kiss, one that made me tingly all over. “Is nine-thirty too early to pick you up tomorrow?”

  “No,” I said, a little breathless from that kiss. “I’ll be ready.”

  “I’ll see you then.” A flash of a smile, and then he turned and headed back down the path.

  Time to go inside. I started to walk over the threshold to the casita, then almost tripped and went sprawling, thanks to my adopted cat choosing that moment to make an appearance and rush past me to get inside.

  “Goddammit, Loki!” I snapped, hanging on to the doorframe to keep myself from doing a face plant. Even as the rebuke left my lips, I realized I shouldn’t be too angry with the cat. It was now past eight o’clock; the poor thing had to be starving.

  I hurried into the kitchen and poured some food for him into a bowl, then freshened his water. He fell to eating right away, and my feelings of guilt intensified. What with everything that had happened that day, I’d completely forgotten about Loki. I needed to make sure he was taken care of in the morning, too. It sounded as if the next day was going to be crazy busy, and although cats didn’t need the kind of attention a dog might, I’d still taken on the responsibility for making sure he had food and water.

  Ah, Goddess. I wandered into the living room and collapsed on the sofa. So much had happened, I didn’t know whether I’d be able to get my mind around it. Rafe, and Simon, and ghosts, and now a wedding. Right then, I wanted more than anything to be able to talk to my mother, to have her tell me this was all going to be okay. We’d always been close, closer, I thought, than she’d been with my older sister, who’d always seemed more attached to Ian, her twin, than to either of our parents. Maybe my mother had done all she could to wring every drop out of the hours we spent together, since she’d always known that one day I’d have to be sent away, that I wouldn’t be close by the way Emily was, or Ian and his family.

  The longing for home was so intense that I almost fancied I could see the living room in my parents’ house in Jerome, the worn but infinitely comfy leather sofas, the coffee table made of one lovingly polished chunk of twisted juniper. Even the scent of wood smoke from the fireplace and the little bucket of cinnamon pine cones my mother kept there from October through the beginning of January seemed real, inviting and aromatic.

  Wait a second….

  Drifting into the living room from down the hallway came the sound of voices.

  My parents’ voices.

  I wasn’t imagining this. I really was standing in the living room of the Jerome house. The casita where I’d been sitting just a moment before had vanished as if it had never been.

  To reassure myself that I wasn’t going crazy, I reached down and touched the glossy varnished surface of the coffee table. It felt all too solid, distressingly real. If this was a hallucination, it was the most detailed one I’d ever heard of.

  I looked around. Everything was just as I’d remembered it — except for a new photo sitting on the mantel, wrapped in a frame of burnished rosewood. I knew that photo even though I’d never seen it before, because it was one my father had taken of my mother and me just the day before as we’d stood in the dark at the train station in Flagstaff. The flash had washed out some of the color in both our faces, making us appear far paler than usual.

  Or maybe we’d been that pale because we knew we weren’t going to see each other ever again.

  At any rate, that photo hadn’t been there the last time I’d been in the Jerome house. I supposed there was a chance my imagination might have conjured it into existence, but I didn’t think so. It was real, just as this house was real.

  Somehow I’d traveled here, covering hundreds of miles in the blink of an eye.

  I turned toward the hallway, took a few hesitant steps in the direction of the voices I’d heard. I needed to talk to my parents, needed to convince myself that I really had managed to teleport here, that I wasn’t experiencing some strange fever dream brought on by the crazy day I’d just survived.

  My foot caught on the edge of the runner that covered most of the hall’s wooden floor. I looked down at it — and that seemed to be all the distraction I needed, because in the next second I was falling, landing palms down on the Saltillo tile floor of the casita with enough force that the wind was knocked out of me for a second.

  Coughing, I rolled over on my back and stared up at the ceiling. It was definitely the casita, with the wood slats and thick logs crisscrossing overhead in traditional Santa Fe style. Whatever had sent me to the house in Jerome apparently had decided to yank me right back here.

  I didn’t have time for much more analysis than that, because a second later, Loki jumped on my stomach and stared down into my face with big, gleaming amber eyes, thus managing to knock the air out of me all over again.

  “Goddammit, Loki,” I said for the second time that evening, once I’d caught my breath. Maybe at another time I would have been glad to see that the cat was so comfortable with me, but right then I needed a chance to get my bearings. I put my hands on his belly and lifted him off, then deposited him on the floor. Breathing still a little rough, I pushed myself to my feet and went over to the couch so I could sit down again. My hands shook, and my knees felt pretty rubbery, too.

  This was all so insane, I didn’t even know how I should react to what had just happened. I knew with every ounce of my being that I’d been back in Jerome. Only for a minute, but long enough for me absorb all those familiar sights and smells and sounds, enough to let me know I was home. And that was just flat-out impossible. I didn’t have any kind of magic at all, let alone the sort of immense powers that would let me jump from one location to another in the blink of an eye.

  My parents had that gift, though. Or rather, they possessed an almost bewildering collection of talents, far more than any witch or warlock should have had in their arsenal. They’d explained that it had something to do with the bond they shared, so much stronger and more mysterious than the connection between a prima and her consort, and that on their own they weren’t nearly as powerful.

  I hadn’t seen most of those talents in action. Certainly they hadn’t used their gifts of teleportation to blink the whole family to Prescott for the afternoon, or anything close to that. We traveled the old-fashioned way, by car. I remembered how I’d asked my father one time why the two of them never did anything interesting with their gifts, and how he’d chuckled and said, “One of the most important things you’ll learn about possessing magical abilities is knowing when to use them…and when not to.”

  At the time I’d only been seven or eight, several years away from having my witch powers begin to manifest. Little did we know that those powers would decide never to show up.

  Is that what was happening to me now? I judged myself steady enough to stand, so I pushed off the couch and went to get some water from the fridge. Standing in the kitchen and trying to wet my dry throat, I wondered if, by some strange chance, my absent abilities had decided to make an appearance ten years later than they should have.

  In a way, it made sense. I’d spoken to Victoria, an ability my mother possessed. And now I’d teleported, something that my parents could only do together, not on their own.

  My father’s innate gift was one of illusion, specifically, being able to change his own appearance. Still clutching my glass of water, I went into the bathroom and stared at my reflection. I looked tired, shadows under my eyes and my mouth seemed a little swollen from Rafe’s kisses, but otherwise it was pretty much me. But what if I tried to make myself someone else?

  Something easy. My father couldn’t make himself look like someone radically different from him physically, and I wasn’t going to try anything drastic. But Cat was around my height and build, and dark-haired as well, so attempting to make myself take on her appearance shouldn’t be too difficult.

  I stood there in the bathroom, trying to recall every detail of her appearance, from the glossy sheen of her l
ong near-black hair to the one little freckle, almost like a beauty mark, high on one cheekbone. The clear gloss she wore on her full mouth, and the leather cord with the crucifix that hung around her neck.

  And…nothing. My same old face stared back at me, completely unchanged.

  “This is crazy, isn’t it?” I asked my reflection. Luckily, it didn’t answer. I wasn’t sure if I could handle that on top of everything else.

  I tried again, this time closing my eyes so I could see Cat’s face like a reflection on the inside of my eyelids. For the longest moment, I stood there, breathing quietly, doing my best to turn this into a meditation of sorts.

  When you open your eyes, you’ll look like Cat.

  I opened them. Still me.

  “Well, shit,” I said, then took my glass of water with me back to the living room, where I set it down on one of the coasters on the coffee table. Loki had curled up on the rug next to the fireplace and was giving me the evil eye, as if demanding to know why a fire hadn’t been lit.

  It did feel rather chilly in there, although maybe the shiver that walked its way down my neck had more to do with all the craziness of the day than the actual temperature. Still, logs had already been set in the grate, which meant I wouldn’t have to do much to get a fire going.

  The simplest of talents, one that even I possessed. I knelt down and touched my forefinger to one of the logs, sending a line of flame running along its length. The thin kindling sticks beneath the logs caught first, jumping up, bright and lively. Almost at once I could feel the warmth flow out from the hearth, soothing my chilled limbs.

  Loki seemed to appreciate my efforts, because he rolled over on his side and stretched luxuriantly before curling himself into a ball once more.

  “Happy?” I asked, but his eyes had already closed.

  Shaking my head, I went back over to the couch and sat down, then made myself drink some more water. Why hadn’t I been able to work the illusion the way my father could have? If I could talk to ghosts like my mother did, and teleport the way both of them could when they were together, why wasn’t I able to also create an illusion, my father’s talent?

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