Haunted hearts, p.15
Haunted Hearts, page 15
Maybe she never would be.
“Found it,” Lorna said. “Yes, the payments have been going to an account at Community First Bank in Las Vegas ever since September twenty-first, four years ago. Is that when you turned eighteen?”
“Yes,” Elena said faintly. Right then, she was glad she was sitting down, because her legs suddenly felt rubbery and weak. “Well, technically, I turned eighteen on the nineteenth, but close enough.” She started to wonder why her father and grandmother hadn’t begun cashing in immediately, but then recalled that her eighteenth birthday had fallen on a Saturday. Probably, they hadn’t been able to initiate the disbursements until the following Monday.
Miranda frowned. “The problem is, Elena’s never gotten any of that money.”
Lorna swiveled on her office chair, staring up at the prima in obvious shock. “What?”
“You heard me. We think that Elena’s father or grandmother set up the account and has been funneling all that money into it in her name, and then withdrawing it for their own use. Would you have something on record to show if they had her information verified without her actually coming to see you the way most people do?”
The accountant witch was beginning to look very grim. Mouth set, she nodded. “Yes, I should still have the original paperwork. They would have had to have her sign it and get it notarized, and then it could have been handled by proxy. We do that more than you’d think — there are quite a few people in other parts of the state who don’t want to have to travel all the way here to Santa Fe to get signed up.”
Miranda sent a worried glance in Elena’s direction. “Do you remember ever signing anything like that?”
She shook her head. “No. And I would remember, if for no other reason than it would have been completely out of the ordinary.”
“Well, let’s see what I can find,” Lorna said. She pushed her office chair over to one of the built-in file cabinets and begin briskly leafing through the paperwork it contained, clearly determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. After a moment or two, she pulled out a single sheet of paper and handed it to Elena. “Is that your signature?”
Holding the paper gingerly, she looked down at it and scanned its contents briefly. Really, there wasn’t much to the document, only words indicating that she, Elena Maria Salazar, was agreeing to have her funds deposited in an account at Community First Bank, with the routing and account numbers listed below the name of the bank.
There was a signature at the bottom, with a notary’s stamp next to it. Problem was…that wasn’t her signature.
“I didn’t sign this,” she said flatly.
Miranda and Lorna exchanged a telling glance. “You’re sure,” Lorna said.
“Of course, I’m sure,” Elena snapped. Then she told herself to rein it in a bit, because she shouldn’t be biting off Lorna’s head when she was only trying to help. “My signature hasn’t changed so much over the past four years that I wouldn’t still recognize it. This person’s writing is rounder than mine. I think it must be my grandmother’s — they’d use her to sign and not my dad, because I don’t think he could disguise his writing enough to look like a woman’s signature.”
The prima tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and frowned down at the paperwork. “But it’s notarized,” she said. “Would a notary public really take the risk of stamping something that was obviously a forgery?”
“If they were bribed enough, maybe,” Lorna replied. She also looked troubled, but more than that, she looked offended, as if what Elena’s father and grandmother had done was so outside normal Castillo behavior that she was having a hard believing they were even part of the same witch clan. “It would have to be a pretty big bribe, though. This kind of conduct would definitely make that person vulnerable to having their notary status suspended or revoked, maybe even leave them open to criminal prosecution if you could prove they notarized this documentation knowing full well that the person who signed it wasn’t actually Elena Salazar. I don’t know about that for sure, though…I’m not a lawyer.”
“Well, we have plenty of those in the Castillo clan if we decide to pursue this,” Miranda said. Her voice had turned brisk, and there was a determined gleam in her big green eyes. Looking at her, Elena thought her father and grandmother had probably made a huge miscalculation. That wasn’t the face of someone who was prepared to let this particular matter go. It felt strange to have someone so firmly in her corner…but it also felt damn good. The prima went on, “In the meantime, what can we do to fix this?”
“First thing, get a bank account set up for Elena,” Lorna answered immediately. “As soon as you have the routing and account numbers, get me that information, and I’ll make an emergency disbursement even though it isn’t the first of the month. And I’ll immediately cancel the payments to Community First Bank in Las Vegas, so we won’t have to worry about any more money going there.”
Miranda nodded. “Got it.” Then a sudden look of dismay passed over her face, and she said, “But it’s Sunday. No one is going to be open today.”
Of course. Elena figured it would be just her luck that all of these catastrophes just had to cascade down on her on a weekend day when they couldn’t do a damn thing to fix them.
“Tomorrow, then,” Lorna said. For some reason, she didn’t appear nearly as worried as the two women facing her. “In the meantime, I can give Elena some cash out of the emergency fund I keep here.”
“Oh, thanks,” she breathed, feeling the knot of tension inside her unwind just the tiniest bit. Yes, she still had some money on her prepaid Visa, but it was now less than a thousand dollars, which was definitely not enough to keep her going at an even halfway decent hotel for very long.
Lorna’s expression softened, and she said, “We’ll get this straightened out. I promise. I’m not sure what your housing situation is, but if you need someplace to stay, Marco and I have a condo near downtown where you can crash for a bit. We rent it out as an Airbnb, but the person who was supposed to come in this weekend and stay for ten days canceled at the last minute. You’re welcome to it.”
This generous offer made tears prick at Elena’s eyes. Even though she’d tried to tell herself that Miranda wouldn’t leave her high and dry, she’d still been inwardly worrying about exactly where she was going to end up. “You’re sure?” she asked. “I don’t want to deprive you of any income — ”
“Well, they canceled so close to when they were supposed to be here that I got to keep most of the deposit,” Lorna said frankly. “And anyway, the money we make from rentals is just a supplement. It’s not anything we need to live on. We’d be glad to have you stay there rather than have it sit empty.”
Miranda smiled, her expression one of relief. “Thank you for that, Lorna. Elena, I could have put you up at the casita at my place, but it’s still close enough to the house that I couldn’t guarantee you wouldn’t be woken up by a crying baby at four in the morning. Ginny’s getting better, but she still doesn’t always sleep through the night.”
About all Elena could do was manage a weak smile in response. Yes, she would have gone to stay at the casita — and been damn glad to have it — but the condo sounded like a much better solution.
“That’s settled, then.” Lorna got up from her chair and went across the room to a door that opened on a walk-in closet. Sitting on the shelf was a small safe; she entered a code on the alphanumeric keypad, then opened the door and withdrew a manila envelope. Inside that envelope appeared to be a respectable amount of cash. She counted out five hundred dollars and extended the sheaf of bills to Elena. “This should be enough to see you through until you get your account set up and your payment for this month comes in.”
“Thank you,” she said, and meant it. Just the realization that she now had an extra cushion — and a place to stay — had helped enormously to calm her down. There was still a mountain of crap they’d have to sort out, including what on earth to do about her father and grandmother’s embezzling, but in
“And the key to the condo,” Lorna added as she pulled out a much smaller envelope and extracted a key with a plain silver fob attached to it. “Miranda, it’s on Griffin Street, just north of Paseo de Peralta. Do you know the area?”
She nodded. “Yes, well enough. What’s the number?”
“Three twenty-two. There’s one parking space assigned to the condo, if you need it.”
“I don’t,” Elena told her. “I’ll have to use cabs to get around.”
“That’ll be easy,” Miranda said with a smile, obviously doing her best to sound encouraging. “They troll that area all the time.”
Elena knew that for a fact, mostly because she’d seen plenty of the self-driving cabs when she was wandering around downtown, and had in fact taken one that time she’d gone to the movies. It was a simple enough process. She realized then that her secret was out, and she wouldn’t have to worry any longer about someone discovering her presence here. She could go back to the movies, go to the grocery store, do whatever she liked.
Funny how, even though that particular weight was now off her back, she didn’t feel particularly happy about the situation. Maybe it was only that she couldn’t help wondering what her father and grandmother would do once they realized the gravy train had ground to a halt…although she doubted even they would be so bold as to waltz into Santa Fe and try to take her back to Las Vegas.
She managed to smile and thank Lorna again, and soon afterward, she and Miranda were back in Miranda’s Mercedes SUV, driving the short distance to the condo, which was really more half of a duplex in an old adobe building on a quiet street just northwest of downtown. They parked, and Elena said, “I can go in by myself. I’ve already taken up enough of your time.”
“You’re sure?” Miranda asked. “And don’t worry about it — this is all part of being prima.”
A prima with a baby at home, and probably a husband who was wondering where the hell she was, since Elena doubted that Miranda’s quick jaunt over to visit Alessandro was supposed to take more than an hour. “I’m fine,” she said. “Really. I just want to sit down and put my feet up and do something mindless like watch TV.”
“I can understand that.” Miranda offered her an encouraging smile and added, “But I’ll come by tomorrow at ten, and then we’ll get your account set up. And that won’t be the end of it — as soon as Lorna lets us know the money has been transferred to you, I’m going to get in touch with your father and grandmother.”
Even though she tried not to, Elena couldn’t help but wince slightly at that statement. All right, she knew that Miranda had to contact them and get to the bottom of what was going on, but she hated even the thought of the turmoil the prima was bound to stir up. Right then, she just wanted to leave it all behind her and get on with her life.
Rather than say any of that — or directly respond to Miranda’s comment — she only said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, then.”
And she got out of the car while the prima watched her with eyes that were sad and just a little bit too old for her face, as if she knew all too well everything Elena was trying to escape…and also realized there was no way to avoid the coming confrontation.
“That didn’t go well, did it?” Victoria inquired, materializing out of nowhere. At the sight of her, Alessandro wanted to curse — or possibly hurl one of the brass bowls on the side table next to him right through her vaguely transparent form. The ghost was just about the last person he wanted to see right then.
If you could even call her a person.
“Not now, Victoria,” he gritted, and stalked out of the living room and down the hallway to the kitchen. Once there, he opened the refrigerator and got out a bottle of Modelo.
Of course, she ignored his warning and drifted along after him, then positioned herself near the stove, arms crossed and a disapproving expression on her face. Maybe her objection was because of the beer he held, or simply because she disliked it when someone used such a harsh tone with her. Not that he cared one way or another. Offending a ghost was the least of his worries at the moment.
He took a swallow of beer and scowled, wondering if he should have gone straight for the tequila.
“Indulging in the demon rum isn’t going to change anything,” Victoria said primly.
That remark earned her a sideways stare as he retorted, “Good thing this is tequila, then.”
Maybe getting drunk wouldn’t change his current situation, but it might make him feel a little better. And if he drank enough, maybe he’d forget the expression of dawning realization in Elena’s storm-hued eyes…and the hurt and betrayal that came soon afterward, once she understood exactly what it was that he’d been hiding from her. It wasn’t until that moment that he knew how badly he’d screwed up. It was clear she would much rather have heard the worst about him than have him purposely lie to her.
Too bad his talent wasn’t time travel. Then he could have gone back and told his earlier self to not be such an asshole. Of course, if he actually possessed a useful gift like that, then he wouldn’t have felt the need to hide it from Elena in the first place.
“Maldita sea,” he muttered under his breath, but not quietly enough that Victoria couldn’t hear him.
“What?” she said.
“God…damn…it,” he said distinctly, pronouncing each syllable with exaggerated emphasis. “Did you hear that okay?”
Her pink rosebud of a mouth pursed in distaste. “There’s no need to be vulgar.”
“Oh, I think there’s every need,” he retorted. “In fact, I plan to get very vulgar very soon, so if that offends you, Señora Ghost, then I think you’d better disappear to wherever it is you go when you’re not around here bothering the people who are trying to live in this house!”
She drew herself up, delicate chin lifting in indignation. “No wonder Elena left. You are a very rude person.”
All right, that was enough. He set down the beer on the counter and plucked a metal spatula from the wire container that held it and several other kitchen implements. “¡Fuera, perra molesta!” he shouted at her. “¡Salgan de mi casa!” And he hurled the spatula right at her.
The spatula passed through her semi-transparent form, and she gaped at him in shock. Maybe no one in the hundred-plus years she’d been haunting the place had ever dared do anything quite so violent. In fact, she placed her hands up against her gauzy body, as though to make sure he hadn’t done any permanent damage to her incorporeal form.
“Why, I — I — ” she spluttered, as though finally at a loss for words. “I never!”
And then she disappeared.
Thank God for small favors. If he’d known the best way to get rid of her was to start throwing small objects in her direction, he would have done that the very first day he got here. He reached for his beer and took a swallow, then another.
The alcohol should have made things better. For some reason, though, the beer tasted sour in his mouth, and not much better when it hit his stomach. Maybe it was fighting with the food he’d eaten earlier, although he doubted that was the real reason for the churning in his gut.
No, he could blame his upset stomach on the way he’d messed this up. Fucked it up, to be perfectly blunt. Now Elena was gone, and he didn’t know what to do. He had absolutely no idea where Miranda had taken her. To a hotel? Maybe. However, he couldn’t count on her going back to the La Fonda, and there had to be at least a hundred hotels and resorts clustered around Santa Fe’s downtown.
He supposed he could call Miranda and ask her where Elena was, but he didn’t like that idea at all. For one thing, it felt way too much like groveling. An Escobar didn’t grovel. And anyway, Elena had been gone a whole, what, twenty minutes? Was he really so crazy about her that he couldn’t wait a few hours or even a day to find out where she’d gone?
Obviously, if he was already thinking about t
If he’d been thinking clearly, he would have gotten her phone number, but he’d never bothered to ask, since at the time they’d been living under the same roof. What would have been the point? Also, he had a feeling that if he tried to call her now, she wouldn’t answer. No, probably the only way he’d be able to talk to her would be by confronting her in person, and since he didn’t know where the hell she was, the likelihood of that happening currently seemed to be nil.
He grabbed his beer and drank some more — two, three, four large swallows in a row. Now it was almost gone, but he still had three beers left out of the six-pack, so all was not lost. Plus, there was the bottle of tequila he’d bought at Trader Joe’s on their shopping trip to Albuquerque. He’d had one shot glass full, just to try it out. Not the best he’d ever had, but not as bad as he’d feared, either. Anyway, there was plenty for him to drink once the beer ran out. For some reason, he didn’t want to get drunk on wine. He saw the wine as something he and Elena had shared, and therefore something that shouldn’t be used to fuel his current rage and despair. Stupid, he supposed, but there it was.
All he knew was that he wanted to get very, very drunk. If he was drunk enough, then maybe he’d forget what she sounded like when she laughed, or how lush and full her lips had been when he’d finally gathered the courage to kiss her. No, better not to think about that at all.
He had a feeling he would never kiss her again.
The condo was very nice. Maybe a little too self-consciously Southwestern, with its walls painted a soft terra-cotta color and the furniture echoing those shades, along with turquoise accents, but everything was clean and new and well thought out, from the compact galley-style kitchen with its automatic coffeemaker to the stacking washer and dryer in the little utility area off the back patio. Would she even be here long enough to do laundry? Hard to say — she honestly couldn’t get her mind around surviving the next few hours, let alone days and days.
by Christine Pope / Romance / Science Fiction & Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes