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Hidden gifts, p.16

Hidden Gifts, page 16

 

Hidden Gifts
 


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  “Did Mother see?”

  Cat let out a little breath. “No, thank God. She was in the middle of telling the bishop all her grand plans for the ceremony, and Miranda and I were standing at the rear of the chapel, where it was pretty dark. I went outside to look for her, thinking that maybe I’d blinked or turned my head or something, and that was why I hadn’t seen her slip out. But she wasn’t outside. She was just…gone.”

  He supposed he should be relieved that Miranda had vanished when Genoveva wasn’t looking, but at the moment he was more worried about where she might have gone. Even so, Rafe hated to think what would have happened if his mother had managed to witness Miranda’s disappearing act. Still, they’d have to come up with some sort of explanation as to why she was suddenly not around.

  Seeming to pick up on what her brother was thinking, Cat went on, “I slipped out and came down here. Then I sent Mom a text, telling her that Miranda and I were shopping for some jewelry to go with the wedding dress, and that we’d meet her at home later. It wasn’t the best cover story, especially since I know that Mom was already planning to lend her something to wear, but it was all I could think of right then.”

  “No, it was a good idea,” Rafe said, hoping his reply might reassure his sister, if only just a little. Actually, he’d thought that was fairly quick thinking on her feet. He didn’t know if he could have done the same thing. “I assume she bought it?”

  “I think so. She texted back for us to enjoy ourselves, and said that she’d take a Ryde home once she was done going over everything with the bishop. It bought us a little time, but what if Miranda is gone as long as she was yesterday?” Cat glanced around again, clearly hoping she would see his runaway bride somewhere in the crowds around them. Unfortunately, she’d been almost impossible to locate yesterday, and Rafe had no reason to believe she’d be any easier to find today.

  And there was also the pesky question of how she’d managed to accomplish this feat in the first place. Had her family been lying all along about her lack of talents? If so, why?

  “Let’s go to my Jeep,” he said in an undertone. “Too many people around here.”

  Cat didn’t argue, but followed him to the side street where he’d parked the Wrangler. They both got in, although he made no move to turn on the vehicle. He’d mostly brought his sister here so they would have a place where they could talk in private.

  During the short walk over to the Jeep, he’d pondered the situation, trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for what had happened. “Miranda’s parents are teleporters, aren’t they?”

  A frown as Cat considered his question. “Um…I might have heard Mom mention it once or twice. Yeah, I guess they are. What, you think Miranda’s inherited their talent?”

  “I don’t know,” he replied. “From what I heard, they made a pretty big deal about her not even having any talents. I think they tried to use it as a reason to call off the whole bargain, even though Genoveva wouldn’t go along with it. But what if it wasn’t Miranda at all, but her parents taking her away?”

  “That’s kind of a stretch — ” Cat began, but he cut her off.

  “Maybe not. From the things Genoveva has said, it sounds as though the McAllister prima and her primus consort have access to all kinds of powers that most witches and warlocks don’t. Who’s to say that they couldn’t sense their daughter’s distress somehow, and then called her home? It would make sense.” Yes, it would make a lot of sense, although he hated the thought of upsetting Miranda so much that her parents felt compelled to extricate her from her current situation.

  Cat frowned and fiddled with the strap of her backpack. “If she’s with them, how would we ever know?”

  “We’d have to contact them somehow. Genoveva has their number in her phone, I think.”

  “Which means it might as well be sealed up in Fort Knox, thanks to the retinal lock on her phone.” Cat frowned and tapped her fingers on the armrest built into the door, mulling over their options. “But maybe there’s another way.”

  “What’s that?”

  “She backs everything up to the desktop computer in her office. It would probably be easier to get the number from her address book there.”

  That did seem like it might be simpler, since the computer was only password-protected. Still, he wasn’t a hacker, and if anyone in the clan possessed those sorts of talents, they kept quiet about it. “You know anyone who can manage that?”

  For a second Cat looked at him blankly, and then she chuckled. “I don’t mean hack into it. I was thinking more of trying to catch her while she was working on the computer, then distracting her for long enough that one of us can slip in and get the information out of her address book. It shouldn’t take more than a minute.”

  That plan did seem to make more sense. Rafe doubted it would be easy, but certainly this strategy must be easier than attempting to duplicate his mother’s retinal patterns. Trying to get her phone when it was unlocked would be almost impossible, since it locked itself after thirty seconds of non-use.

  “How do you want to do it?” he asked. “Are you going to distract her, or should I?”

  “Better let me do it. I can manufacture something about the bridesmaids’ dresses, or some kind of other wedding crap.” Cat paused there, looking somewhat distressed, then hurried to add, “I didn’t mean it that way. But there are a lot of details to manage.”

  “No, I get it,” Rafe said. “You’re probably right.” He was silent for a moment, trying not to think what would happen if they didn’t manage to locate Miranda in time. The wedding was now barely twenty-four hours away.

  Cat’s phone chimed, indicating she had a text message. She yanked it out of her purse, read the message on her home screen, and seemed to relax slightly.

  “Is it — ?” he began, and she shook her head.

  “No, it’s not Miranda. That was a text from Mom, saying she was done at the cathedral and was on her way home. We might as well head over there, too — she was closer, so she’ll get there before us. I’ll go in to talk to her, tell her that Miranda is in the casita resting. That should explain why we’re not together.”

  “And how do you propose to get her on the computer?” Unlike most of the people Rafe knew, the prima of the Castillo clan didn’t spend her days with her eyes glued to a screen. She viewed her computer and her phone as the useful tools they were, but they certainly didn’t dominate her existence.

  “I’ll figure something out,” Cat said. “I’ll ask to look at the seating chart or something — God knows she’s spent enough time obsessing over the damn thing. You just need to be ready to get in there on my signal.”

  This all sounded very clandestine. However, he knew they needed to reach out to Miranda’s parents for their help, and they couldn’t do that without their phone number. “Got it,” he responded. “Let’s go.”

  He eased the Wrangler away from the curb and then took a circuitous route to the house where he’d grown up, making sure the Ryde vehicle his mother had summoned would have plenty of time to get her home before he and Cat arrived. Rather than park in the driveway and therefore give his presence away, he stopped around the corner from the house and left his Jeep there. Thank God his mother didn’t have the ability to sense when someone was on the property; like all primas, she knew if a witch or warlock from another clan had passed into their territory, but that talent didn’t extend to knowing when her children might be lurking nearby.

  “I’ll just text ‘now’ when the coast is clear,” she said. “Be ready.”

  “I will.”

  She gave him a thumbs-up, then headed off toward the house. Rafe followed at a safe distance, making sure he always had some hiding place where he could duck, just in case his mother appeared out of nowhere. This wasn’t very likely, since once she was home she tended to stay inside, especially if the weather wasn’t fine, but he knew he couldn’t trust mere luck to protect him. He certainly hadn’t been very lucky so far, with the wom
an he was supposed to marry disappearing at the most inconvenient times.

  Well, maybe not the most. He was pretty sure the worst would be if she disappeared into thin air as she stood next to him at the altar tomorrow evening.

  No, that wasn’t going to happen. They’d fix this, track down where she was and make sure she came back. If she was angry about the women in his past life, he’d explain to her that he’d indulged in those relationships just as much to piss off his mother as he had to bring a little companionship into his world. Not the most mature behavior, but he wanted to be truthful. He hadn’t loved any of them, although he’d done his best to treat them well and make sure they had a good time during the weeks or months they were together.

  By this time of day, the sun was low in the western sky, obscured by the trees on the property that faced theirs across the street. Rafe was glad of the shadows the late afternoon light provided, because he wanted to skulk as close to the house as he could without being in direct view of any of the windows that faced out on the gardens. He glanced down at his phone, which he held clutched in one hand, but it remained mute, the screen blank except for the current time and temperature.

  And what if the McAllister prima and the Wilcox primus didn’t want to help him, decided it was better for their daughter to stay with them than remain someplace that made her so unhappy? Rafe wasn’t sure what he’d do then. It wasn’t as though he could confess his undying love for Miranda. He’d begun to care for her, but he couldn’t call the tentative tenderness he now felt a love for the ages. Perhaps one day their connection might be exactly that — something about her kisses aroused him in a way no other kisses had — and yet he didn’t want to oversell the situation between them.

  Especially not to her parents.

  His phone buzzed, and he looked down at the screen.

  Now.

  He hurried to the side entrance off the kitchen, since it was closer to his mother’s study than the front door. Also, he couldn’t know for sure where Cat was taking Genoveva, and there were more places to try to hide himself in this part of the house — the laundry room, the oversized closet used for cleaning supplies and the vacuum cleaner and so on. Once he was inside, he paused, hoping he could hear his sister’s voice so he would have a better idea of where she might be.

  Unfortunately, he couldn’t hear a damn thing. All he could do was inch his way down the corridor toward his mother’s study and pray that Cat had come up with a really good excuse for drawing Genoveva away from the room.

  When he peeked into the study, he saw that it was empty, the big screen of his mother’s computer alive with a series of images showing Santa Fe in the autumn. Good. If the screensaver was activated, then the computer shouldn’t be locked.

  He hurried over, touched the keyboard, navigated to the digital phone book she kept on the hard drive. It only took a few seconds to find the listing for Angela McAllister. Rather than waste time keying in the number, he took several photos of the entry with his phone, then engaged the screensaver again.

  Voices began to drift down the hallway. “…couldn’t find her shoes, and I don’t know if we’ll get the replacements here in time.”

  Cat, speaking a little louder than usual, clearly for his benefit. Rafe slipped out of the study and back down the hallway to the kitchen, then let himself out the side door. It was probably safest to keep going; they could maintain the façade of normality as long as it seemed he was off somewhere with Miranda, which meant he needed to make himself scarce and meet up with Cat once she got away from the house.

  He breathed a sigh of relief as he let himself out the gate, and he was even more relieved once he’d climbed inside the Wrangler and turned on the engine. A quick text — Got it. Meet me at Antonia’s when you can — and he was off, pulling away from the curb faster than he should have. Right then he didn’t care. He just wanted to put as much distance between his mother and himself as he could.

  Antonia’s was a little gastropub on the northeast end of downtown. There was a public parking lot half a block away, so Rafe left the Jeep there and went into the pub to wait for his sister. At this hour, not quite five o’clock yet, the place was fairly deserted.

  He didn’t know the girl working behind the bar, which was a relief. Right then, he didn’t feel like engaging in any small talk. He ordered a local pale ale and took it to the most secluded booth in the place, one off in a corner, and allowed himself a small swallow of beer. It took a considerable amount of willpower to keep himself from looking at Angela McAllister’s number and calling her right then and there, but he figured that wouldn’t be fair to Cat. She’d put herself on the line, too, and deserved to be present when he made the call.

  To his relief, Cat walked in only a moment or two later. She spotted him in the booth, but first went to the bar and got a brown ale, then came over and slid into the seat next to him.

  “Now I know why I never wanted to work for the CIA,” she said. She lifted her mug to her lips, drank a large gulp of the ale, and set the mug back down. “I was so sure Mom could hear my heart pounding away as I told her lie after lie. Thank God detecting lies isn’t her talent.”

  Rafe had thought much the same thing over the years. He nodded. “You did great. Do you think she suspected anything?”

  “I doubt it. She’s pretty distracted with the wedding. Sounds like she wants to make it her crowning achievement.”

  “You’d think it wouldn’t matter so much, since she’s already married off Louisa and Malena.”

  Cat made a face, then drank some more of her brown ale. “Yes, but now she’s marrying off her only son. It’s a big deal. Or at least,” she added, “it will be a big deal, assuming we can locate the bride in time.”

  Right now, that seemed like a fairly large assumption. Still, they had to try. He got out his phone and went to the clearest of the photos he’d taken of Angela McAllister’s number, then stared at it for a moment, imprinting the digits on his brain. “I guess I’d better go ahead and call.”

  “What are you going to say?”

  “The truth,” he replied. “What else can I do? If Miranda really is with them, I’ll only look like an even bigger asshole if I try to hand them some b.s. story.”

  “True.”

  Before he could lose his nerve — or forget the digits he’d just memorized — he went to the phone’s keypad and quickly entered Angela McAllister’s number. It rang once, rang twice.

  Please don’t go to voicemail, he thought. That would be too anticlimactic.

  But then the ringing stopped, and a pleasant female voice said, “Hello?”

  “Is this Angela McAllister?”

  A pause. When she spoke again, her tone was altered subtly, laced with an edge of suspicion that hadn’t been there the moment before. “Who is this?”

  “My name is Rafe Castillo.”

  Another pause, this one more shocked than anything else. Then she said, “Rafe Castillo? Is Miranda with you? Is she all right?”

  This question was followed by the murmur of a man’s voice, probably Miranda’s father, although Rafe couldn’t make out anything of what he was saying.

  “Well, um,” Rafe said, feeling more wound up than ever, “I was kind of hoping she would be with you.”

  Dead silence.

  “Angela?”

  When she spoke, it was in slow, hesitant words, as if she wasn’t sure how to respond. “Rafe, why would she be with us? Your mother specifically said we were to have limited contact with our daughter. She wouldn’t even allow us to come to Santa Fe for your wedding. Has it happened yet?”

  “Um, no. It’s set for tomorrow at five, but….”

  “But what?”

  “But Miranda’s disappeared. She was talking with my sister, and she just — went away.”

  A long pause. Then the McAllister prima said, “I don’t understand.”

  “She disappeared into thin air. It was like she teleported, but that’s impossible, isn’t it? I mean, s
he doesn’t have the ability to do that…or does she?”

  “Hang on.”

  There came a sort of clicking sound. Rafe wasn’t sure what it might be, but he guessed maybe it was the clatter of a ring against the plastic of the phone as she covered the microphone. He could faintly hear a murmured conversation of some sort, although he wasn’t able to pick out the actual words.

  A man’s voice. “Rafe, this is Connor, Angela’s father. You’re saying she teleported right in front of your sister?”

  “Yes, sir.” Might as well be respectful. Rafe didn’t know how much the show of deference would earn him in the long run, but he figured it couldn’t hurt. “I thought — that is, I knew that you and your wife were able to teleport, so I was wondering if you’d taken Miranda away for some reason.”

  “No, we haven’t.” A brief pause, and Connor went on, an edge to his tone that hadn’t been there before, “In fact, we’ve done everything your mother asked of us, and now you’ve gone and lost our daughter?”

  Oh, hell. Rafe wished he could pick up his glass of pale ale and take a fortifying swallow, but that didn’t seem like a very good idea at the moment. “I’m not sure if ‘lost’ is the right word. But if she’s not with you, is there even a possibility that she could have done this on her own?”

  “I don’t see how. She’s never shown any sign of true magical ability. For her to develop such a powerful gift, and at such a late age….” Connor’s words trailed off. When he spoke again, he sounded almost confused, uncertain. “That is, I’ve never heard of such a thing happening before, but I can’t say for sure that it’s not impossible. I’ll have to look into it. But what are you going to do to find Miranda?”

  “We’ll….” Jesus Christ, what could he and Cat do? They’d already learned the day before that when Miranda wanted to stay lost, that’s exactly what she did. There was no good way to track her down, magical or otherwise. Luckily, Connor Wilcox didn’t know that. “I have a cousin, someone who can find missing people. We’re going to call him to come help us.”

 
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