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Haunted hearts, p.13

Haunted Hearts, page 13


Haunted Hearts

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  “I kind of guessed,” she responded. Then she smiled and added, “But I’m really glad you did.”

  A flicker in his eyes, one she couldn’t quite read. Even though they’d spent a lot of time together — even though he’d just kissed her — in many ways, he was still a complete mystery to her. “You are?” he asked.

  “Yes,” Elena said. Whatever else happened, she knew she needed to tell him the truth. “To be honest, I’ve been kind of hoping you would. I just didn’t want to send any signals because I was worried you might not feel the same way about me.”

  Alessandro’s mouth twisted slightly, and he reached out to touch her hair, fingers running down one strand until he came to the choker she wore. He touched that, very gently, before removing his hand. “Oh, I felt it, all right. I just didn’t think I should do anything about it.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because…because of a lot of reasons.” He stopped there. Elena got the sense there was something else he’d wanted to say but somehow couldn’t.

  “Could you tell me at least one of them?”

  He managed a lopsided smile. “I didn’t want to take advantage of you. I know you don’t have a lot of experience — ”

  “Any experience,” she corrected him. Judging by the way his body tensed, she had a feeling that might not have been the right thing to say. It was the truth, though, so she wasn’t about to take it back. “I mean, I met a few guys at the hotel, and I flirted with them…but nothing happened. It could have, but I realized I didn’t want it to. I wanted someone special. You’re special, Alessandro.”

  And she went up on her tiptoes so she could kiss him again, initiating the contact this time to let him know that this was something she wanted, that just because he’d kissed her first didn’t mean his embrace hadn’t been anything but entirely welcome. His arms encircled her once more, and this time she thought about how strong those arms felt, how muscular they were beneath the smooth brown skin and the bold tattoos. He was warm, too, his body heat penetrating her shirt as if it was made of much thinner material than simple cotton poplin, was transparent silk or gauze.

  She wanted him, she realized then. Much more than a kiss, much more than his arms around her. She had lived a sheltered life, but she’d surfed the internet enough to know exactly what sex was about, what this throbbing ache in the very core of her body meant. Now she saw why people would do such crazy things to be with the person who made them feel this way, because if Alessandro could do this to her with only a kiss, she could hardly imagine how good it might feel to have him touching her, to have him inside her, their bodies locked together to make a perfect whole.

  Yes, she wanted that more than she’d wanted anything in her entire life.

  His fingertips traced their way down her cheek, a caress so gentle, it felt like a brush of butterfly wings against her skin. How could he have been so brusque and rude when they’d first met, and yet be so unbelievably tender?

  “I’m not sure I deserve you, Elena,” he said, and as she began to murmur a protest, he continued, forcing her to hear his words. “Listen. There are things I haven’t told you about me, things you need to know.”

  “It doesn’t matter,” she told him. “I don’t care.”

  “But you should care. I — ”

  His sentence was cut off by the ringing of the front doorbell, which sounded unnaturally loud in the still house. Elena startled, then looked up at Alessandro in consternation as he let go of her.

  “Ignore it,” she said fiercely. “We’re certainly not expecting anyone, so just don’t answer the door. They’ll go away eventually.”

  Judging by the way his mouth tightened, he wasn’t about to take her advice. “What if it’s Ava? If I ignore her, she’ll just have Gabriel send her right inside the house.”

  Well, crap. Elena had worried that her cousin might show up unexpectedly, but it still seemed strange that neither she nor Gabriel had reached out to let Alessandro know they might be coming. He was right, though; Ava would be rightly upset to be denied entry to her own house. Besides, even though she didn’t know Elena was living here, she at least knew she was staying somewhere nearby, so her presence wouldn’t be a complete shock.

  “Can you see who it is?” she asked.

  He went down the hallway and peered through the beveled glass that made up the small window in the door’s upper third, then shook his head. “Not really. I can see the top of a woman’s head. She has dark wavy hair.”

  That sounded like Ava. Elena came up to stand next to him and said in resigned tones, “Well, I guess you’d better let her in.”

  Alessandro put his hand on the latch and pressed down. The door swung open, revealing a dark-haired woman in her early twenties. She was very pretty, with high, wide cheekbones and striking green eyes, but she was no one Elena had ever seen before.

  “Hi,” the strange woman said. Her gaze flicked from Elena to Alessandro. “I’m Miranda Castillo.”


  Right then, Alessandro felt as if someone had reached out and punched him in the jaw. He stared down at Miranda. For some reason, he’d expected her to be taller, as though the prodigious talents she supposedly commanded should have also lent her extra height.

  She said, her tone still pleasant, although with an edge that carried its own warning, “Can I come in?”

  “Yes,” he said, finding his voice. Next to him, Elena had gone pale with worry, although she didn’t say anything. “Please. Sorry — I wasn’t expecting company.”

  “I guess not,” she replied crisply. As he and Elena stepped out of the way, Miranda entered the foyer and gave a quick look around. “It looks a lot different when it isn’t decorated for Halloween.”

  Not sure how to respond to that odd comment, he allowed himself a shrug and said, “We can sit down in the living room.”

  “I’ll go get some water,” Elena blurted out, then all but fled down the hallway to the kitchen.

  “Who’s your guest?” Miranda asked as she took a seat in the armchair.

  Hell. Oh, hell. He might have tried to come up with a lie about Elena being a tourist he’d met downtown, except the prima would have already been able to detect that she was a witch, so that story wouldn’t work. For all he knew, Miranda’s powers also allowed her to determine whether someone wasn’t telling the truth. Gabriel hadn’t gone into a lot of detail about the Castillo prima’s magic, except to say that in some ways, it was even more powerful than his own. And since Gabriel was the strongest warlock anyone in the Escobar clan had seen — with the exception of his late father, Joaquin — that meant Miranda was definitely not a person to be trifled with.

  Alessandro sat down on the couch, wondering if there was anything he could say that might salvage the situation. “She’s — well — ”

  “I’m Elena Salazar,” Elena announced, returning to the room with a pitcher of water in one hand and a couple of glasses in the other. Her expression was resigned, as if she knew there was no point in trying to hide her identity from her prima. She put the pitcher and the two glasses down on the coffee table, and poured some water into the tumblers. Obviously, she was trying to act cool and calm, but Alessandro could see the way her hand shook before she set down the pitcher of water.

  Miranda’s big green eyes widened even further. “Elena Sal — ” She broke off there, paused for a second or two, and then said, “Did you know I’ve had the whole Castillo clan looking for you for the past two weeks?”

  Elena bent over to wipe an imaginary drop of water from the wooden surface of the coffee table, obviously doing whatever she could do to avoid the prima’s shocked stare. “Um, no, I didn’t.” She came and sat down next to Alessandro, her body so tense, he thought she might vibrate if plucked, like a guitar string.

  “Well, I have. Your father and your grandmother are going out of their minds with worry. They — ”

  Elena cut in, her voice hard, “Are they worried about me personally, or just worried about w
hat I might do with my powers?”

  That question seemed to take the prima aback. She hesitated, hands rubbing over the knees of her jeans. Watching her, Alessandro remembered that she was younger than he by about four years or so. She’d seemed so self-assured when she arrived on the scene, but he realized she was still relatively new to all this, and probably wasn’t someone who enjoyed flexing her authority.

  “Both, I suppose,” Miranda said after a long pause. “Which I can understand. You do have a very unusual power, Elena.”

  This remark didn’t seem to do much to mollify her. She still sat ramrod straight next to Alessandro, body tense. Unlike Miranda, who couldn’t quite keep herself from betraying her discomfort at this unexpected confrontation, Elena was unmoving, her chin high and shoulders back. “And did my father and grandmother tell you what they did to control that power?”

  “‘Control’ it?” the prima repeated, looking blank. “Not really. I mean, they said you’d never left home before this and couldn’t understand what might have happened to make you leave, but — ”

  “They kept me locked up in that house,” Elena told her. “I couldn’t go out, couldn’t see anyone, couldn’t do anything. They thought the safest thing to do was to keep me isolated. And no one asked any questions because it was mostly Genoveva’s idea, and her word was law around here.”

  Now it was Miranda’s turn to go pale. She stared at Elena, shock clear in her expression. “I didn’t know anything about that.”

  “No, I doubt Genoveva would have told you. It was her dirty little secret. Or at least, one of her dirty little secrets. I have a feeling she had more she was hiding, but since no one ever told me anything about what was going on in this clan, I have no idea what they could be.”

  “So….” The prima let the word trail off, as if she hadn’t been quite sure what she wanted to say. “You’ve been here the whole time?” She turned accusing eyes on Alessandro, adding, “Why didn’t you say something when you arrived here and found her in the house?”

  “I wasn’t here the whole time,” Elena said before he had a chance to reply. “Ava and Gabriel put me up at the La Fonda for a while, but then I started to worry that the money she gave me was going to run out, so I thought I should come stay here at her house instead, since she wasn’t using it. I wasn’t here for more than a few hours before Alessandro showed up.”

  “Wait — ” Miranda said. She looked slightly dazed. “Ava and Gabriel got you a room at the hotel? What do they have to do with any of this?”

  Elena let out a breath, then replied, “They busted me out of my house. They needed my help to restore Gabriel’s powers. I summoned a friend who took care of it, and then Ava got me set up at the hotel so I’d have someplace to stay while they went off to El Salvador. That’s all.”

  This explanation didn’t seem to do much to improve Miranda’s mood. Clearly at a loss for words, she sat there, frowning for a moment, and then her gaze shifted back to Alessandro. “You still should have called me,” she told him. “I know Ava gave you my phone number.”

  “I decided not to,” he said, doing his best to sound unconcerned. “Elena told me what had happened, and how she was worried that you would try to send her back to her family, so I thought it best to let her stay in the guest room.”

  Now the prima appeared absolutely flummoxed. She looked from him to Elena, then shook her head. “What am I supposed to do about all this?”

  “Nothing,” Alessandro replied. “That is, I suppose you should let Elena’s family know that she’s safe, but since she’s an adult, she can make her own decisions, can’t she?”

  “True, but….” The words trailed off, and Miranda looked rather glum. Clearly, she wasn’t very happy about having to tell Elena’s father and grandmother that their wayward girl had no intention of coming home. Then her expression inexplicably brightened and she said, “Actually, in a way, this works out really well. I’ll just tell them about your null power, Alessandro, and how you can keep Elena from summoning any of her demons. That should calm them down…I hope.”

  Maldita sea. He’d been praying that particular subject wouldn’t come up, but of course Miranda could have no idea that he hadn’t said a word to Elena about his own peculiar talent. She pulled in a barely audible gasp of a breath, then shifted so she was staring straight at him, gaze so sharp that he had the feeling she wanted to use it to bore right through his skull and into his brain so she could see the truth for herself.

  “‘Null power’?” she echoed. “What is that?”

  Miranda’s hand began to move toward her mouth, then paused, as if she’d just realized that she’d let slip something maybe she shouldn’t have…and also realized that she probably shouldn’t be telegraphing her discomfiture to her audience. Worried gaze fixed on Alessandro, she asked, “You didn’t tell her?”

  “Yes, Alessandro,” Elena said, tone far too sweet. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  Madré de díos. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, cursing Miranda…and cursing himself for holding back and not telling Elena the truth. And the damnable thing was, after that kiss they’d shared, he’d realized he needed to tell her everything — about his gift that was much more a curse, about the real reason he’d come here to Santa Fe. It would have been difficult, but he’d known even then that he didn’t want to live a lie with her. Surely if she cared enough about him, it wouldn’t matter what he could do with his magical talent…since he never planned to use it again.

  Any excuses he might offer would sound horribly flimsy. He thought again of how sweet her mouth had been, pressed against his, of how he’d wanted to breathe in the clean shampoo scent of her hair. And he thought about the sound of her laughter, and the way her blue eyes would sparkle when she teased him.

  If he wasn’t careful, he would lose all of that before he even had a chance to appreciate how wonderful she really was.

  “I was going to,” he said. As soon as the words left his mouth, however, he realized they were a mistake.

  “Oh, really?” she retorted, eyes flashing. “When? We’ve shared this house for days, Alessandro. I’ve asked you point-blank about your talent, and you’ve evaded and dodged and said it wasn’t important. So tell me about this ‘null power’ of yours, since it’s so totally unimportant.”

  He wanted to recoil at the sarcastic edge to her voice. But doing so would only make him a coward…and he’d already been enough of one. Maybe he could argue that he’d had his reasons — and maybe that would even be true — and yet he knew he had to be honest with her now. “My magic can blank out the magic of anyone around me for as long as I stay focused. I don’t have unlimited range — I can maybe make it work in a radius of about ten meters or so — but it’s very effective.”

  Elena seemed to absorb all this, face still pale, although a few spots of color burned high on her cheekbones. “I’ve never heard of that talent before.”

  “It’s very rare,” Miranda put in. Possibly she thought she was helping, or perhaps she realized how badly she’d stepped in things here and believed that by providing some extra context, she might help to defuse the situation. “I don’t think there’s ever been a Castillo with it — at least, that’s what people have told me. There’s no one in the Wilcox or McAllister clans with the null power, either.”

  “It occurs in the Escobars from time to time,” Alessandro said, noting how clinical he sounded, how detached, as though he was talking about a clan completely unconnected to him personally. “Neither Vicénte nor Gabriel had it, but their father Joaquin did. And I heard that Joaquin’s grandfather did as well, but of course, that was long before my time.”

  Elena sat very still for a moment, jaw clenched. In fact, he could see her throat muscles strain against the choker he’d bought for her, making it suddenly seem too tight. “You should have told me. What if I’d tried to reach out for Bel — what if I’d needed to use my talent to contact someone and couldn’t because you were blocking it?”

/>   “That wouldn’t have happened,” Alessandro said quietly. “I have to consciously use my talent, and there would have been no reason for me to do that.”

  “Really?” she responded, voice hard, accusing. “You’ve never made a mistake?”

  He wanted to retort that no, of course he hadn’t, but he knew that wasn’t the truth, or at least, not the whole truth. Oh, he hadn’t inadvertently employed his questionable gift for several years…and yet there had been a few times when he’d been angry or upset enough with someone in the village that he’d reached out with it to show them exactly what they faced if they tried to cross him. He hadn’t been fool enough to do such a thing with Vicénte — although God knows the former primus had angered him almost to that point on more than one occasion — but Alessandro couldn’t say the same thing for those who muttered insults about him behind his back, or gave him sidelong, accusing glances when they thought he wasn’t looking. They’d thought him a lackey and the primus’s tool, and maybe they’d been right. Still, that hadn’t kept him from allowing his subconscious to lash out with the strongest weapon in his arsenal when he was sufficiently agitated.

  His silence seemed to be the only answer Elena needed, because her full mouth tightened for a few seconds before she said, “I see. I think that’s all I needed to hear.” She pushed herself up from the couch, clearly wanting to put some space between them. Gaze shifting to Miranda, she went on, “Ava said something about having some kind of a stipend or a Castillo account or something?”

  Apparently taken aback by this non sequitur, the prima blinked, then said, “Your father never told you about that?”

  “Of course not,” Elena replied. “You think he’d want me to know about something that might have made me independent?”

  Miranda pressed her lips together and darted a quick glance over at Alessandro. About all he could manage was to send her his stoniest gaze in reply. What else could he do? He thought he knew exactly why Elena was asking about money, even though his stomach clenched at the realization.

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