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Hidden gifts, p.14

Hidden Gifts, page 14

 

Hidden Gifts
 


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  Because I was trying too hard? When Victoria approached me in the bathroom at Tony’s house, I certainly hadn’t been attempting to talk to any ghosts. She’d appeared out of thin air, so to speak. And the same thing with my little unscheduled jaunt to Jerome. I’d been thinking of my parents, sure, and of home, but never in a million years had I believed I would be able to travel there. It had just…happened.

  Well, if that was the case, I was in trouble, because a witch who couldn’t control her talents was worse than a witch who didn’t possess any at all. I’d always wondered whether it was a sort of safety mechanism that made witches and warlocks start to develop their powers at ten or eleven, rather than years earlier. Yes, a ten-year-old was still very much a child, but one far better-equipped to manage their magical gifts than a four- or five-year-old.

  My hands still shook, and I wondered if I should try to call Cat, get her advice. No, that wasn’t a very good idea. She’d be bound to be sympathetic — or at least I hoped she would — but I also worried that she might say something to her mother, since she’d probably be way out of her depth with something like this. Genoveva Castillo might be an utter pain in the ass, but she was also the prima of a very old and powerful clan. She was the natural person to go to with any questions about magic and its workings.

  I could call my parents. They might have some words of reassurance. At the very least, they’d probably offer to research my strange situation, to find out if any of the records of the various Arizona clans had stories remotely similar to mine. Anyway, it would be good to hear my mother’s voice, to have my father tell me it would all be okay. Genoveva hadn’t specifically forbidden me from contacting them, had only said she thought it would be a good idea to put some distance between us so I might acclimate to my new environment more quickly, and that it would be better if I kept my calls to a minimum.

  My purse was still sitting on the kitchen counter where I’d set it down as I first came into the casita. I rose from the couch and went over to dig my phone out of the depths of my bag, then lifted it to my lips.

  “Call home,” I said.

  No sooner had the words left my mouth than Loki appeared in the kitchen, meowing loudly and taking a swipe at my leg. His sudden arrival startled me so much that the phone dropped from my already shaky hand, crashing on the hard tile of the kitchen floor.

  “Oh, shit. Shit.” I dropped to my knees and reached for the phone, but I could already tell it was a total loss, the screen smashed to bits, the plastic casing itself cracked. Nevertheless, I lifted it to my mouth and said, “Call home.”

  Nothing, of course. And when I tried to push the button to get me to my contacts list so I could punch in the number manually, nothing happened. That phone was dead.

  Great. Just great.

  I pulled in a breath and got back to my feet, then put the ruined phone on the counter as I glared down at Loki. “What the hell was that all about?”

  He stared up at me with innocent amber eyes and meowed softly.

  If I had been back home and that had been our dog Wheeler, then I would have known he was asking for a treat. Did cats beg for treats? I really had no idea, and even if I did, it wouldn’t have mattered, since all I’d gotten at the grocery store was regular cat food. No treats. No catnip or whatever else it was that cats liked.

  “I don’t have anything for you, big boy,” I said. “But thanks for wrecking my phone. What the hell am I supposed to do now?”

  In response, Loki looked around the kitchen once, meowed again, and then stalked off majestically, his tail in the air. Clearly, if I didn’t have any treats, he didn’t have any use for me.

  Stupid as the feeling might have been, I wanted to cry right then. I hated the idea of not having a phone. No, I wouldn’t have abused it to call my parents day and night, but without the phone, I felt completely unmoored. The casita didn’t have a computer, and I hadn’t been allowed to bring my laptop with me. Some rudimentary connectivity was possible through the television, but it wasn’t the same thing.

  No booze in the cupboards, either. At that point, it seemed as if about all I could do was have a drink to settle my nerves, but obviously Genoveva had feared I might try to self-medicate, and so there wasn’t anything stronger in the tiny pantry than coffee. All coffee would do was have me bouncing off the walls until two in the morning.

  About all I could do was call the day a loss and go to bed. I didn’t know where these powers were coming from, but I figured that I should be safe enough if I was asleep. I had a big day tomorrow, after all. Shopping and dress fittings and flowers and the Goddess only knew what else.

  And the day after that I would marry Rafe.

  Maybe if I kept repeating that crazy sentence over and over in my head, it might finally seem real.

  11

  Preparations

  At least I didn’t teleport in my sleep, or set the casita on fire, or any of a hundred other gruesome scenarios that flitted through my head that night before sweet oblivion finally claimed me. I didn’t have the alarm on the phone to wake me up, but the morning sun did a good enough job, filtering through the loose-weave curtains in the bedroom and letting me know it was time to get out of bed.

  I took extra care getting ready, not to please Genoveva, but so I would look good for Rafe. Yesterday I’d done much the same thing, but an afternoon of sleeping on Simon’s couch and all of the day’s worry and strain had mostly erased the special effort I’d put into getting dressed and doing my hair and makeup. Even though I hadn’t had a chance to look in a mirror after I left Simon’s apartment, I knew I’d been pretty much a mess by the time I went to see Rafe at his house. Today I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about such complications. Rafe and I had ironed out our differences — at least for the moment — and I vowed that I’d do my best to be civil to Genoveva. She was going to be my mother-in-law, after all. We’d be in each other’s lives from here on out, and so I needed to make an effort to get along with her, difficult as it might seem.

  And I’d have to do something about getting a new phone. Were there even any electronics stores near the Plaza? I somehow doubted it. Maybe Rafe and I would be able to carve out a little time to go to a different part of town and do some phone shopping. I supposed I’d just have to wait and see.

  Rafe was about five minutes late, but I didn’t mind. He was frowning when I opened the door, though, which didn’t exactly give me a good feeling about how the rest of the day was going to go. To my relief, he revealed the source of his irritation as soon as we locked eyes.

  “Didn’t you hear your phone? I called to say I was running a little late — I got bogged down in a chat with a client.”

  “Oh, sorry about that.” I stepped aside so he could enter the casita, then gave a helpless shrug. “I had a mishap with the cat last night, and I dropped the phone. I think it’s dead for good.”

  The frown intensified, his brows drawing together. “Are you sure? Let me take a look.”

  I thought I could recognize a dead phone when I saw one, but I didn’t protest, only went to the kitchen where the broken phone was still sitting on the counter. He took it from me, turned it over, tried entering a few voice and touch commands, then shook his head.

  “I guess it is dead.” With a shrug, he put it back down on the counter. “We’ll try to get you a new one as soon as we can, but it isn’t that big a deal.”

  “I was afraid your mother would be very angry about it.”

  “This?” He shook his head. “It’s just a phone. If you’re worried about the cost, please. Genoveva spends more than that on a facial. And it’s not like we have to worry too much about getting in touch — you’ll either be with me or with Cat and my mother all day today and tomorrow. Once everything is settled down, you and I can go shopping for one, if we haven’t gotten a replacement before then.”

  The tension that had been knotted inside me ever since I’d dropped the phone eased somewhat, although not all the way. Yes, I was glad t
he phone apparently wasn’t a big deal, but there was still the far more pressing issue of those weird bursts of magic I’d experienced during the past few days. I didn’t even know how to bring up the subject.

  Well, I’d survived the night. Probably it was better to wait to talk about my little problem until the right opportunity presented itself. “All right,” I said.

  He smiled, the frown gone as if it had never existed. “Hungry?”

  “Starved,” I replied, because I was. The dinner I’d shared with Simon was long used up, and I hadn’t eaten anything this morning, since I knew I was going out.

  “Then I’ll take you to my favorite breakfast place. Come on.”

  We drove downtown and parked in one of the structures there, one almost across the street from Simon’s wine tasting room. I shot a surreptitious glance at the storefront as we passed by, but of course at that hour of the morning, the place was closed. Thank the Goddess. Rafe didn’t even spare a look in that direction, although he probably hadn’t wasted the effort simply because he knew the shop wouldn’t be open yet. Still, I was glad there would be no chance of a confrontation. The two of us would be long gone before Simon showed up for work.

  The restaurant Rafe took me to was a little hole in the wall squeezed between two shops. The man who seated us greeted him by name and smiled at me, and took us to what he proclaimed was the best booth in the house. I didn’t know about that — they all seemed pretty much the same to me — but it was clear that everyone there knew Rafe and his family, because the waiter asked after Cat, and whether Louisa or Malena would be stopping by any time soon.

  Rafe didn’t appear put off by any of these friendly intrusions and answered the questions with a smile, his expression so sunny and open, he almost seemed a different man from the one who had sent me fleeing from La Plazuela the day before. Once we’d ordered some coffee and the waiter had left, I bent toward Rafe and whispered, “Do they know?”

  He didn’t bother to ask what I meant by that particular inquiry. “No. They’re all civilians, as I’m sure you can tell. But we Castillos have been here a long time, and they know us, know the family. We can’t avoid involvement with regular folks, so to speak. Not that I would want to. It can get kind of crazy-making, being among only our kind.”

  I nodded, although it seemed my experience had been quite different from his. But then, in Jerome, the civilians we allowed to live in our little town knew about the McAllisters, although they were sworn to secrecy. It wasn’t the same in Flagstaff, a much bigger city where you had to guard your tongue. I knew I would miss that about my hometown, even while I’d also known that I could handle myself in Santa Fe after so many years of learning to be cautious during the months of the year the family spent in Flagstaff.

  “How many Castillos are there in Santa Fe?” I asked.

  “I haven’t counted. Around six or seven hundred, I think, and of course there are many more of us scattered around the state.” A glint entered Rafe’s dark eyes, and he added, “Don’t worry — you won’t have to remember all their names until you’ve lived with us for at least a month.”

  “You say that like you’re joking,” I replied, “but I have a feeling your mother will expect more or less exactly that from me.”

  “Oh, you’re being too hard on her. I think she’ll give you at least two months, maybe even more.”

  About all I could do was chuckle. The waiter came back with our coffee, and we ordered our meals — a breakfast burrito for Rafe, huevos rancheros for me. I’d barely glanced at the menu, but that sounded like a good choice, tasty without being too heavy. The last thing I wanted was to be all bloated while squeezing into wedding gowns.

  The mere thought of trying on dresses made me tense up, although I tried to tell myself it would all be fine. After all, I’d known from the beginning that I would be marrying Rafe, and I also knew that a wedding required a wedding dress…or at least, any wedding that involved the Castillo prima’s only son would require a gown. No quickie ceremony at the courthouse for us, that was for sure. Even so, I couldn’t look on the upcoming preparations with anything less than trepidation. What if Genoveva had picked out a bunch of hideous gowns for me? I wouldn’t have the luxury of saying no to all of them; I’d have to choose something, no matter how ugly, since I had a tight deadline breathing down my neck. And for all I tried to tell myself I was just borrowing trouble, I couldn’t be sure I was wrong. Genoveva seemed like the sort of person who might take perverse pleasure in making sure her new daughter-in-law didn’t look all that great on her wedding day.

  “Stop stressing,” Rafe said. “It’s going to be fine.”

  “Is it that obvious?”

  A smile touched the corners of his mouth, but I thought I saw understanding and more than a little sympathy in his tea-brown eyes. “Basically, yes. While I’d be the first person to admit that my mother is an excellent source of stress, she should be pretty mellow now. After all, she’s getting her way.”

  “Does that bother you?” I asked, not sure whether I wanted to hear the answer or not.

  His gaze met mine, deadly serious now. “It might have…if the other person involved in this whole thing had been anyone except you.”

  Warmth curled in the pit of my stomach. I could have blamed the sensation on the coffee I’d just drunk, but I knew it wasn’t that, only the effect Rafe seemed to have on me.

  Was now the time to tell him about what had happened to me last night, or even the night before, at Tony’s party? I didn’t want to keep any secrets from him, but at the same time, we were sharing a cozy, friendly moment. The last thing I wanted to do was to worry him. Anyway, the booth behind us was occupied by a retired couple who seemed more intent on their breakfasts than on having a conversation, so they were both silent. It would have been far too easy for them to overhear what Rafe and I were saying.

  No, better to wait until we could talk in private. I hadn’t experienced any strange flare-ups this morning, and neither had I been able to summon a lick of magical talent to do anything except light the scented candle that sat on the dresser in the casita’s bedroom. Whatever had been happening to me over the past few days, it seemed to have gone dormant again…at least for now. Strangely, I was almost disappointed by its disappearance. Those strange bursts of magic had frightened me, but they were also almost…exhilarating, like being blind your whole life and then suddenly being able to see flashes of color.

  “I’m glad,” I said. “I mean, I’m glad that it doesn’t bother you. I’ve had my whole life to prepare for this, but….”

  “But what?” His voice was soft, almost caressing.

  “But now it almost doesn’t seem real. You don’t seem real. You’re just too…perfect.”

  That comment made him laugh out loud, even as he shook his head. “Damn. Good thing I wasn’t drinking coffee when you said that, or you might have gotten sprayed.” He reached across the table and touched my hand. “Miranda, I am far from perfect. My little outburst yesterday should have told you that.”

  “It wasn’t all your fault. I wasn’t exactly making things easy for you.”

  “No, Miranda, I’m not going to let you make excuses for me.” His fingers tightened on mine in a reassuring squeeze before he withdrew his hand. “Just accept my apology, okay?”

  “All right, Rafe, I accept your apology.” I didn’t want to argue with him. If he wanted to accept all the blame — and most of it really should rest on his shoulders, if I was going to be entirely honest about the situation — then it seemed better for me to just let the matter go. “So…what’s the plan for today?”

  “After breakfast, I’ll drop you off at the house. I think Cat is going to play chauffeur, but I’m not sure where you’re going first. I didn’t ask about the itinerary.”

  No, he probably couldn’t have cared less about whether I would be sampling wedding cake first, or trying on gowns. Even now, when he was no longer regarding our upcoming nuptials in horror, he still most lik
ely hadn’t wasted much time on the particulars of the ceremony, as long as it happened.

  I wondered who his best man was going to be. For that matter, who would be my bridesmaids? I assumed Cat would be the maid of honor, since that made the most sense, but I had no idea about the rest of them, or even how many there would be. Castillo cousins, I assumed, handpicked by Genoveva. It didn’t matter, I supposed. What really mattered was that Rafe and I would be married, and afterward….

  Well, afterward we would go live in his house, I supposed. It wasn’t exactly my style, at least the small part of it I’d seen so far, but that really didn’t matter so much. I’d get used to it. Just as I’d get used to living here, to being a part of the prima’s immediate family. Maybe sooner or later my grand destiny would reveal itself. Or not. It was entirely possible that what Isabel Castillo had seen all those years ago was only the awakening of my talents, as if, for whatever reason, I’d had to come to Santa Fe in order for my magical gifts to show themselves. I wanted to believe that was the truth. At least then what was happening to me would make some sense.

  “I suppose I’ll find out where we’re going soon enough,” I said, then fell silent as the waiter returned with our breakfasts.

  Rafe waited until he was gone to respond to my comment. “Exactly. And while you’re off doing all that, I’ll drive down to the electronics store and get you a new phone. That way, we can get it set up once you’re done with all your running around, and you won’t have to wait too long for a replacement.”

  “Sounds like a plan.”

  He smiled, and we dug into our food. It was nice to have had an ordinary, pleasant exchange like that, planning our day, no drama, no fuss. The circumstances surrounding my presence here might be strange, but I wanted things to be normal, wanted to at least act as if there was nothing out of the ordinary about what we were doing. It hurt to know that my parents wouldn’t be able to attend the wedding, though. Just another one of Genoveva’s edicts, a detail we’d all known about for a long time but was still difficult to accept. She had condescended to offer a full set of wedding photos of the blessed event, so at least my parents would have that much.

 
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