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Hidden gifts, p.15

Hidden Gifts, page 15

 

Hidden Gifts
 


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  In every way, though, she’d done her best to make sure I knew this was my family now, that there would be no returning to Arizona and the world I’d once known.

  That thought made me somewhat melancholy. I pushed it aside and concentrated on my excellent huevos rancheros, since there really wasn’t anything else I could do. Rebellion was out of the question. I’d weighed the concept many times, mostly during the second half of my high school years, when I’d wanted to date, wanted to find some way to create a different future for myself than the one that had been planned for me. However, flat out refusing to come to Santa Fe would only have destroyed relations between the Castillo clan and my own, and although the witch world had been peaceful enough during all the years of my life so far, it never was a good idea to burn those sorts of bridges. I hadn’t been born yet, but I’d heard about the one-time feud between the Wilcoxes and McAllisters, an enmity that had lasted for generations…and I’d also been told about the war between the California-based Santiagos and the Arizona clans. No one wanted something like that to happen with the Castillos.

  So here I was.

  Here with someone who was handsome and smart and talented. Rafe might have a temper, but at least it seemed as though he was the type to flare up and burn out quickly. I much preferred that sort of personality to someone who would hold a grudge indefinitely. And oh, the way he made me feel when he kissed me….

  Yes, despite my adolescent gloom and doom, I thought all this was turning out pretty well.

  While we ate, we chatted about ordinary enough things — how he wanted to take me up to Taos after the wedding for a sort of honeymoon, about the resort where we’d stay. It did sound romantic, and any plans that involved an extended time away from Genoveva Castillo could only appeal to me.

  After we were done with breakfast, he took me to the house, where she and Cat were waiting for me. This morning, Genoveva might have been a different person, because she was all smiles, happy that everything was progressing the way she wanted. I couldn’t quite forgive her for her past behavior, but I did my best to be pleasant, to smile at her as well and tell her I was looking forward to all the preparations.

  Cat wasn’t quite as effusive as her mother, since she remembered all too well my disappearance of the day before. To my relief, though, she didn’t seem inclined to bring it up, only said briefly that we’d better get going, since we had an appointment at the wedding gown shop at eleven.

  After getting a goodbye kiss from Rafe, I went with Cat and Genoveva out to her SUV, which took us back downtown, to a street so small that I probably would have passed it by, thinking it was only an alley. Midway down the block was the store in question, an elegant little space where an equally elegant woman, her dark hair up in a French twist, welcomed us and offered tea, or coffee, or sparkling water.

  Since I’d already had coffee with breakfast, I asked for water, while Cat and Genoveva both took tea.

  “Excellent,” said the woman who’d greeted us. “I’m Tess, and over here I have the dresses I’ve pulled for you.”

  She led us to a private little alcove off to one side where at least a dozen filmy white concoctions hung from a rolling steel rack. Looking at them, my heart sank a little. Not because they weren’t beautiful, but because there were so many of them. Did Genoveva really expect me to try on all those gowns?

  Apparently, she did. The alcove had also been outfitted with a beautiful antique carved screen, creating a dressing area. Tess brought the first dress to me, and the ordeal began.

  I say “ordeal” just because even the most inveterate shopper might get worn down by having to try on so many dresses at once, and I was far from an expert shopper, given the limited options available in Jerome and Cottonwood or even Flagstaff. Still, I gritted my teeth and did what I was supposed to, rejecting this gown for being too ornate, and the next for being too plain, and shooting down yet another because it didn’t fit well and I didn’t possibly see how it could be altered in time for the ceremony.

  But then I came to one that, while simple, seemed to mold to my shape as though it had been custom-made for me. The bodice was embroidered with silk flowers in the palest shade of blush imaginable, picked out with pearls and crystals. And I loved the way the skirt flowed behind me, with enough of a train to do justice to Loretto Chapel, but not so extravagant that it couldn’t be bustled up out of the way for dancing at the reception.

  “Oh, yes, that’s the one,” Genoveva said, watching me with a critical eye as I turned from one side to the other.

  Cat clasped her hands together, the dubious expression she’d worn back at her mother’s house now long gone. “It’s perfect.”

  Smiling, Tess brought out a long veil and a tiara whose pearls and crystals echoed the ornamentation on the gown. “Try this.”

  A tiara? I raised an eyebrow.

  Genoveva seemed to sense what I was thinking, because she said, “You will need it, to go with that gown. Shouldn’t you look like a princess on your special day?”

  How could I argue with that remark? Besides, I had the feeling that the Castillo prima did rather look on her family as royalty, and so she probably didn’t see anything strange about her future daughter-in-law wearing a tiara for her wedding.

  I gave a helpless shrug, and Tess set the tiara on my head. My hair was a little windblown, and so the effect wasn’t quite the same as it would be once I was all done up for the ceremony, but I had to admit the overall impression was nice.

  “All right,” I said. “Tiara it is.”

  After that, we only had to attend to odds and ends like shoes and the correct petticoat and corset-like bustier to wear under the gown, and then we were out the door, with Tess promising that the dress and its accoutrements would be sent over to the house on the morning of the big day.

  “The baker,” Genoveva announced grandly, and we were off to the races once more.

  The bakery wasn’t too far from the dress shop, and there I got to taste all kinds of amazing samples of cake, although I was warned that the cake’s decorations wouldn’t be too elaborate, since the staff at the shop would start making it basically the second we left the store. I didn’t mind all that much; after all, a cake was meant to be eaten, not hung on a wall and admired. Genoveva told me red velvet cake was Rafe’s favorite, and so of course we had to have a layer of that, and another layer of chocolate with fudge ganache filling, and then another layer of red velvet for the very top, the part of the cake we were supposed to take home and freeze so we could eat it on our first anniversary.

  First anniversary. I could barely wrap my head around the thought of marrying Rafe the next day, let alone being married to him for an entire year.

  But I didn’t have time to ponder that astonishing notion, because once we were done at the bakery, we headed over to one of the restaurants Rafe’s father owned. This was the first time I’d even gotten to meet him, and I knew I sounded nervous and tongue-tied as he shook my hand and gravely welcomed me to the family. Eduardo Castillo was a handsome man, tall like his son, with an impressive head of gray-streaked dark hair. He bent and gave Genoveva a kiss on the cheek, and hugged Cat, before he took us to the restaurant’s banquet room, an elegant space with square beams on the ceiling and an enormous fireplace on one wall. They’d already started decorating in here; beautiful little white-branched trees hung with fairy lights lined the walls, and a garland of leaves and fairy lights and pale roses bedecked the mantel of the fireplace.

  “It’s beautiful,” I said, and Eduardo smiled.

  “I’m glad you like it. Of course it isn’t done yet, but I hope you can tell something of what it will all look like when it’s finished.”

  “It will be perfect,” I told him, quite sincerely.

  “Speaking of getting things done,” Genoveva put in, “we must be off to the florist now. I already gave him some direction, Miranda. I hope you don’t mind.”

  “No, I don’t mind,” I replied, which was only the truth. What
I knew about floral arranging could fit in a thimble.

  “Excellent.” She put up her cheek for another kiss, which Eduardo fondly bestowed on her. It seemed they were a happy enough couple, despite her sometimes overbearing personality. I wondered if there was something about the prima/consort bond that smoothed out many of the personality differences between those involved. Maybe, although I’d never thought the same thing about my parents. They’d always gotten along so well and seemed so blissfully happy together that I’d never questioned the source of their happiness.

  Off to the florist’s, where I could only nod at the photos Genoveva and the owner of the business, a woman named Liana, showed me. Everything looked lovely, and I especially liked the theme of shades of white and cream with little touches of blush, just like the wedding gown I’d chosen. Had Genoveva planned for me to pick that dress all along? I wouldn’t put it past her exerting a little prima influence to get exactly what she wanted, although I couldn’t argue with the final result.

  And I couldn’t wait to see the expression on Rafe’s face when he saw me in my wedding dress.

  On the way back to the house, we stopped at Loretto Chapel. I wasn’t sure how Genoveva had managed it, because I knew the chapel was open to the public when it wasn’t being used for weddings or funerals or baptisms, but the place was empty when we arrived, warm afternoon sunlight slanting through the stained-glass windows.

  The bishop himself came out to meet us, an older man with cheekbones so proud, you’d think he was also a member of the Castillo clan, although I could tell right away that he was a civilian. Still, he was very pleasant, smiling at me and offering his congratulations, all deference to Genoveva as she told him what she had planned for the ceremony.

  The two of them walked away, Genoveva pointing at the pews and at the altar, the bishop nodding in apparent agreement with everything she said. Once they were safely out of earshot, Cat grinned and shook her head. “Have you ever been to a Catholic wedding?”

  “No,” I replied. Neither the McAllisters nor the Wilcoxes practiced that religion, and although there were a good number of McAllisters who’d ended up marrying into the de la Paz clan, who were overwhelmingly Catholic, I’d never traveled to Phoenix or Tucson to attend any of those weddings. At the time, I’d thought it was only because they were distant enough relatives that my presence wasn’t really required, but I realized now it was probably more that my parents had done everything they could to keep me in northern Arizona, away from awkward questions. I still didn’t know whether the de la Paz prima, a woman named Zoe, had any idea of the bargain my parents had made with the Castillos.

  “Well, at least they won’t be doing the service in Latin, but it will still be long. Make sure you eat a good breakfast.” The twinkle in Cat’s dark eyes faded somewhat, and she added, “Seriously, I’m really glad you and Rafe were able to work things out. I was worried there for a bit.”

  “I know, and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset anyone.”

  “It’s all right.” She glanced toward the altar, where her mother and the bishop had paused. Genoveva was making a grand waving gesture with both arms, as if indicating the size of the floral arrangements that would be placed there. “If I’d been in your shoes, I probably would have taken off, too. Rafe’s a good guy, but he does know how to get under your skin.”

  “Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing,” I remarked, remembering that first kiss we’d shared, the way he’d made my blood run both hot and cold.

  Cat raised a hand in mock horror, even as she chuckled and said, “Spare me the gory details. While I’ve heard he can have that effect on women, I’d rather not know all about it.”

  “Oh, he does, does he?” I asked, a trickle of doubt beginning to work its way through me. Rafe had never spoken about being with other women before me, but I supposed I’d been naïve enough to believe — or hope — that he’d held himself aloof from the opposite sex, just as I had.

  The expression of alarm that flared in Cat’s dark eyes told me she’d just realized her gaffe. “It’s — it’s not what you’re thinking. I don’t think he was ever really serious about any of those girls.”

  “‘Any’?” I echoed. “Just how many are we talking about here?”

  “Oh, hell.” Once again she looked toward the altar, but it appeared that Genoveva and the bishop were still safely involved in their conversation. “All right, Rafe’s had a few girlfriends over the years. Our mother didn’t approve, but he didn’t care. To be honest, I only met two of the girls he dated. He did his best to keep them away from the family.”

  “So they were civilians?” To my relief, I sounded absolutely calm as I asked the question. Inwardly, though, my insides were roiling with resentment. How typical that Rafe would go out and have all kinds of girlfriends, while I was practically living like a nun, saving myself for him.

  “Yes,” Cat replied. “He figured that was safer.”

  “Safer why?”

  “Because he knew those relationships would be doomed from the start. There are plenty of Castillos who’ve married civilians, but our mother would never allow any of her own children to do the same thing. I guess Rafe worried that if he ever got serious about someone who was a witch, it could cause all kinds of problems, since he was already promised to you.”

  I knew I shouldn’t let these revelations bother me. It wasn’t as if he’d had a secret engagement with any of those women, had wanted any of them to replace me. I also had no way of knowing whether he’d been intimate with them. But then, why wouldn’t he have been? A lot of progress had been made on that front over the years, but there still tended to be a double standard when it came to sexual activity. It would have been okay for Rafe to sleep with those girls, as long as he was honest with them about where the relationship was headed. On the other hand, I was sure Genoveva would have freaked out if I’d arrived in Santa Fe and announced that I wasn’t a virgin, had had a long string of boyfriends back in Arizona.

  Unfortunately, the more I told myself not to worry about it, to let the matter go, the angrier I got.

  “Miranda — ” Cat began, her tone openly pleading, worry clear on her features. No doubt she was kicking herself for bringing up the topic in the first place.

  I didn’t want to hear her make excuses for Rafe. Honestly, I didn’t want to hear any excuses from him, either. Right then I just wished I could get away from Cat and from the drone of Genoveva’s voice in the background, describing in minute detail everything she had planned for tomorrow’s ceremony. I needed some space to think, to figure out what I should do about this — if anything.

  And then, before I could even begin to react to what was happening, the cathedral blinked out of existence.

  12

  Suspicions

  Rafe

  He hurried toward Cat, who lingered near the entrance to one of the high-end jewelry stores that fronted on the Plaza. Even from several yards away, he could see how pale she looked, how her fingers were tightly wrapped around the strap of her purse/backpack. As he approached, she said, “Thank God.”

  All he’d gotten was a terse text ten minutes ago. Miranda’s gone. Meet me in front of Domenico’s.

  Miranda was gone? How the hell could that have happened, when she was supposed to be with his sister and mother? It was one thing to walk out of a restaurant and blend in with the crowd before disappearing for the afternoon, but Rafe couldn’t think how his fiancée could have managed the same feat when accompanied by the clan’s prima.

  “What’s going on?” he demanded.

  “I don’t know,” Cat replied. She glanced around them; although there were plenty of passersby on this section of covered sidewalk in front of the jewelry store, no one seemed to be paying any attention to the pair who lingered in front of one of the display windows. “Seriously, Rafe, it was the craziest thing I ever saw. One minute I was standing there in Loretto Chapel, talking to Miranda, and the next she was just gone. Vanished into thin air, ev
en as I was looking at her.”

  None of this made any sense. How could Miranda disappear like that? She didn’t have any magic. “So, what, just poof and gone in a puff of smoke?”

  “There was no puff of smoke.” Cat’s gaze shifted away from him, toward the gleaming jewels in the shop window, although he got the impression she didn’t actually see any of them. “I — I kind of screwed up, might have said something about you dating other people in the past.”

  Oh, great. While he certainly didn’t believe that having previous relationships was a punishable offense, he could see why Miranda might think that way, considering how she’d apparently avoided any connections with the opposite sex. And he could also see why realizing he hadn’t kept himself “pure” might have upset her.

  “Thanks, Cat,” he said, and she sent him a pleading glance.

  “I’m really sorry. It just sort of slipped out. I didn’t think it would upset her so much.”

  “And it was after you made this revelation that she disappeared?”

  A shame-faced nod. “Yes.”

  Should he be angry with Miranda for being so unreasonable about a situation that really had nothing to do with her…or should he be annoyed with himself for cavalierly assuming that the girl being forced to marry him might be upset by his earlier indiscretions? Either way, Rafe wasn’t sure what to make of his sister’s admission. Was there a connection between what Cat had said and Miranda’s disappearance, or was it simply coincidence? How had Miranda managed to disappear like that, anyway? He’d been told she had no magical talents; he could sense she was of witch-kind, but that extra little tingle he got when meeting another warlock or witch for the first time only let him know he was in the presence of someone with magical blood, not how strong that person might be.

 
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