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Haunted hearts, p.16

Haunted Hearts, page 16

 

Haunted Hearts
 


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  Okay. One thing at a time. Elena forced herself to open her overnight bag and hang up her blouses in the closet and put away the rest of her clothes in the highboy that occupied one corner of the master bedroom. Toiletries in the bathroom, and then she was done. In that moment, she realized how little she had to truly call her own — a few tops and pairs of jeans, an extra pair of shoes. Yes, she had much more than that back at the Las Vegas house, although she knew deep down she would never go back there to reclaim her belongings, not even if Miranda and her husband Rafe accompanied her for moral support. That part of her life was over with. What the next part would be like, she had no idea, but she’d manage it without returning to the house that had been the scene of so much misery for her.

  Once she was unpacked, she went back out to the living room and sat down on the couch. There was a small kiva-style fireplace in one corner, but of course the weather was too warm for her to even consider lighting a fire. A TV had been mounted to the wall opposite the sofa, and a remote and a local cable guide had been tucked into one of the coffee table’s drawers. It would certainly be easy enough to sit here and stare at the TV and not think about anything much at all.

  Well, except for the part where her brain apparently didn’t want to do anything except think, her thoughts running wild, wondering what Alessandro was doing right now…wondering how her father and grandmother were going to react once they realized her money wouldn’t be going to them any longer…wondering what the hell she was going to do with herself in the long run. She could make Santa Fe her home, but to do what? She didn’t even have a high school diploma. Her grandmother had made a show of homeschooling her, but the truth was, Elena had mostly taught herself. She’d taken an online equivalency exam and had the certification to prove she’d passed, but so what? Would that even get her into college?

  Did she even want to go to college?

  She honestly didn’t know, mostly because the prospect of college and so many of the things most people took for granted had never been an option for her. Once again, she had a dizzying array of possibilities in front of her, possibilities she wasn’t sure she wanted to evaluate right then.

  If she didn’t, though, what else was she supposed to do? She needed something to occupy herself, or she’d start brooding over Alessandro again. Alessandro, who’d hidden the most essential truth about himself from her. Had he been embarrassed? Worried that she’d recoil from him once she learned exactly what his magical gift really was?

  Stop thinking about him, she scolded herself, but of course, the more she tried not to think about Alessandro, the more he dominated her thoughts…the sound of his voice, the strength of his arms as he’d held her, even the warm, subtle scent of his skin. She was so goddamn angry with him…and yet she still wanted him more than ever.

  Was this what being in love with someone did to you? Did it make you certifiably crazy?

  No, she wasn’t in love with him. She was willing to admit an attraction, but come on. They’d met less than a week earlier. How could you be in love with someone you barely knew?

  Of course, the more she fought against the very idea of caring that much for Alessandro Escobar, the more she realized that, damn it, she probably did.

  The silence in the condo seemed to press down on her ears. Every once in a while, Elena heard a soft whoosh from a car passing by on the street, but that was about it. The quiet neighborhood was probably a selling point for this Airbnb, although she would have welcomed a pair of neighbors yelling at each from across the road, the way Mr. Littlefield and Mr. Carranza did pretty much every afternoon back on the street where she’d grown up.

  That memory evoked a wave of…what? Not homesickness. She didn’t miss the house in Las Vegas at all, not one bit. No way in the world would she ever go back there. But she knew she needed something familiar, something to hold on to when her whole existence felt as if it had been built on quicksand.

  She needed a friend.

  Her last words to him had been sharp, annoyed. Now Elena regretted how she’d treated her one and only friend, the single person who had always been there for her.

  With her gift, there was no need to draw any spell circles, nor to even utter the words of the ritual that would bring him to her, although she’d spoken them in front of Ava and Gabriel — more for show than anything else.

  “Belshegar!” she called out. “I need you.”

  Dead silence. She curled her hands into fists and clenched them on her knees, praying he wouldn’t ignore her. Could he even do that? She didn’t know, because he’d always been there for her before, had never refused her call.

  Her heart pounded, and once again, sharp, hot pinpricks of tears burned her eyes. What would she do if he didn’t come?

  A rush of air, and then he stood before her, head almost scraping the ceiling of the condo, which was much lower than the ceilings in Alessandro’s borrowed house, or even in the two-story home where she’d spent nearly all of her life. Belshegar’s black eyes met hers, and she saw no anger in his face. Only sorrow, and a compassion as wide and deep as the night sky.

  “My dear girl,” he said, and then he came to her and lifted her from the couch, holding her tightly as she buried her face against his massive chest and finally let the tears come, let them pour down her cheeks and wrench their way out of her lungs in great, gasping sobs.

  Elena didn’t know what she wept over more — the loss of Alessandro, or the loss of the last bit of trust she had in her father and grandmother. All along, she’d made excuses for them, had always thought they must have her best interests at heart, even as her captivity grated on her and she wished for a chance to escape and finally see something of the world. Now, though, the cold, hard evidence of what they’d done to take her money from her, to make sure she would never have a single opportunity for independence, was enough to destroy what little faith she had in them.

  Belshegar didn’t say anything, only continued to hold her as she cried herself out, let all the worry and despair of the past few hours wash their way through her. At last, though, the tears subsided and she pulled away from him, wiping her eyes.

  “I’m sorry,” she said.

  “For what?” he asked, sounding genuinely curious. “You called to me in your time of need, and I answered. You have nothing to apologize for.”

  She sniffled, then realized there was a box of tissues on the side table next to the sofa. Thank God. After blotting the last of the ruin of her mascara and then wiping her nose, she stared up at the demon. He was gazing down at her, expression troubled — but only on her account, she realized.

  “I do have something to apologize for,” she said. “I was a total jerk to you the last time we saw each other.”

  Belshegar lifted his massive shoulders. Odd how he could be so huge, so physically overwhelming, and yet know exactly the right way to hold her so he wouldn’t crush her ribs like matchsticks. “You were concerned,” he replied. “I did not hold that against you. Did you think I was angry?”

  “I sort of got the impression you were annoyed when you left.”

  “Annoyance is a human emotion. I was merely telling you that, because my presence seemed to be an issue, I would wait on your summons in the future to avoid any friction between you and Alessandro Escobar.”

  Wow, she’d definitely misinterpreted his reaction, then. Elena supposed that just proved that you could know someone for years and years and still not be able to correctly guess how they might handle any given situation.

  “My mistake, then.” She sat back down on the sofa, and Belshegar took up his usual seat on the floor so their eyes would be more level.

  “But what is it that has upset you so much?”

  “You don’t know?” Sometimes it seemed as if he possessed uncanny knowledge of what was going on in her life, while at others he didn’t appear to have any idea at all. That would seem to disprove her original notion of him watching over her all the time, like some sort of strange guardian angel
, but she still hadn’t quite figured out the dynamics of how it all worked.

  He shook his head, long black hair brushing against the floor behind him. Good thing he was sitting on a flat-weave wool rug and not the bare tile. “Not this time. You’d made it fairly clear that you didn’t want me interfering, and so I allowed myself to be occupied by other matters. But of course I heard your call just now — I will always hear that.”

  Thank God. The idea that Belshegar would always be there for her, would never abandon her completely, made her feel just the tiniest bit better. “Alessandro was lying to me,” she blurted out.

  At once, her demon friend frowned, and a smoldering red flame appeared in his coal-black eyes for a second or two before disappearing. “Lied to you? What falsehoods did he tell you?”

  “Well, it’s not exactly like that,” she admitted. “More like he kept the truth from me. I wanted to know what his magical talent was, but he wouldn’t say. It turns out he was hiding it from me because it’s one that is very rare — and pretty scary to us witches and warlocks, because it suppresses our powers.”

  Still frowning, Belshegar asked, “So, his talent is taking away other people’s powers?”

  She nodded.

  “I can see why you might find that troubling,” he said. “And that is all?”

  Elena stared at him, at the harsh, impassive features. “‘All’?” she repeated. “I would think that would be enough.”

  “Did he use this power on you?”

  “Well, of course not.”

  Belshegar reached up with a taloned finger to scratch at his chin. “Then I am not sure why you would be upset. It’s not as if he told you an outright lie — he only chose not to tell you the truth.”

  Now it was her turn to frown. Of all the reactions she might have anticipated from the demon, she’d definitely never expected him to defend what Alessandro had done. “Isn’t that kind of the same thing?”

  “I don’t think so.” Before she could respond, he went on, “Oh, I can see why you would not like him to hide this information from you, since such a gift could easily be used as a weapon, but if he never used it on you….” An eloquent shrug. “What is it you humans says? ‘No harm, no foul’?”

  This was not going at all as she’d expected. Elena let out a huff of a breath and said, “It’s the principle of the thing. I asked him point-blank, and he wouldn’t tell me. If he had some sort of harmless power, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but….” She let the words trail off, waiting to see some sort of agreement in Belshegar’s expression. Since she saw none, she found herself compelled to add, “He knew all about my power from the very beginning. Don’t you think I deserved the same sort of honesty from him?”

  “I don’t know,” the demon said frankly. “Did he ask you about your talent, or did you volunteer that information?”

  “How does that make any difference?”

  “It makes a difference because Alessandro did not request that knowledge from you. Instead, you offered it freely. That was your decision. You can’t make him behave exactly as you did just because you wish him to.”

  Somehow, Elena knew there had to be a flaw in that logic, but damned if she knew what it was. She settled for leaning against the back of the sofa, arms crossed, as she sent Belshegar a challenging stare. “I don’t think it makes a difference. I was being honest…he wasn’t.”

  “And this upset you so much because…?”

  With those gleaming black eyes fixed on her, Elena found it harder than she’d thought to come out with the truth. How could she admit to Belshegar that she’d fallen in love with Alessandro? No, it wasn’t that she thought the demon would be jealous in some way — their relationship was nothing like that — but how could she utter such a truth to him when she was barely able to acknowledge it herself?

  When she didn’t reply, he asked, “Is it because you’ve developed feelings for this human?”

  “I didn’t say that,” she told him, and his head tilted to one side as he regarded her, a faint smile playing on his lipless mouth.

  “You didn’t have to.”

  She crossed her arms and settled against the back of the couch. “Am I that obvious?”

  “To someone who knows you well, yes.”

  Those words should have reassured her a little, if for no other reason than there were probably only three people on the planet who could claim to know her well. Since right then she would have been happy if she never saw her father or grandmother again, she figured Belshegar was the only person who could take a look at her and know right away what was going on in her mind.

  When she didn’t respond, he continued. “If you’re upset with yourself for coming to care for Alessandro, you shouldn’t be. I’ve always thought you had a loving heart, Elena. You had few chances to express that love, however. Your family would not even allow you a pet to keep you company.”

  No, they hadn’t. Her grandmother had always claimed to be highly allergic — to dogs and cats and birds and mice and anything else that might have been a possible candidate for pet status in their household — and so Elena had never had any kind of company at all, except for her demon friends. Who she’d had to keep secret, for obvious reasons, which meant she lost quite a few hours of sleep talking to Belshegar and his ilk in whispers in the middle of the night when no one would guess what she was up to.

  “You’re too kind, Belshie,” she said, and allowed herself a sigh. “I think I’m just stupid. It’s not very smart to fall for the first guy who crosses your path.”

  “I am not too kind,” he told her. His brows — black slashes against his copper skin — quirked a little. “If that was really the truth, then you would have fallen in love with one of the men you met when you were staying at the hotel. But you did not. You spoke with them as you sat at the bar and had a drink, and amused yourself for a time. But you didn’t give your heart to any of them.”

  She supposed that was true. Several of them had been attractive enough, and one of them — Kyle Tanner, a rep from some pharmaceutical company or another — had been in town long enough that she probably could have allowed things to progress if she’d wanted them to. She hadn’t, though. A brief flirtation had been more than enough for her, simply because Kyle hadn’t engaged her heart.

  Not like Alessandro had. There was something about him that drew her, even if she couldn’t say exactly what it was. Yes, he was good-looking, but she knew her feelings weren’t based on pure physical attraction. She sensed some kind of wound in him, something she desperately wanted to help him heal, even if she had no idea what it was.

  Of course, she didn’t know. How could she, when he’d kept almost every detail about his life a complete mystery other than a few very dry facts? Somehow, she’d sensed that she’d better not pry too much, although where had her reticence gotten her?

  Nowhere, except to get completely blindsided by the truth about his magic.

  “It doesn’t matter, though,” she said listlessly. “He screwed up, and I stormed out. How am I supposed to fix that?”

  For a long moment, Belshegar didn’t reply. Then he gave her a very direct look.

  “I suppose it depends on how much you want to fix it.”

  13

  Alessandro was just about to pour himself another shot of tequila when the doorbell rang. He made a face and contemplated simply ignoring it. After all, if he waited long enough, whoever was out there would have to go away. He’d already jammed a wooden chair up under the knob so that any witches or warlocks in the vicinity couldn’t use their powers to let themselves in. Actually, he was rather proud of himself for thinking of such a precaution, considering his current condition.

  The doorbell rang again. Scowling, he lifted the bottle of José Cuervo and poured the shot anyway, noting with some detachment how he’d managed to slop a bit of tequila on the pale granite of the countertop. Damn. He hadn’t thought his hands were that unsteady.

  Another ring from the doorbe
ll, this one sounding almost irritated. Or maybe that was only his imagination attributing his own feelings to an inanimate object. He could see that happening. At the same time, he was a bit proud of himself for managing such a lucid thought after three beers and two shots of tequila.

  Ding-dong.

  “Fuck you,” he said distinctly, and reached for the shot glass.

  “I wouldn’t drink that if I were you.”

  The Castillo prima’s voice. He turned slowly, figuring that if he moved too fast, the room might spin, and saw Miranda Castillo standing in the entrance to the kitchen, her arms crossed and a look of pure irritation on her pretty features.

  As he stared at her in bleary-eyed consternation, she went on, “Oh, I decided to let myself in, since you obviously weren’t going to answer the door. Didn’t Gabriel tell you I also had powers of teleportation?”

  “Must have slipped his mind,” Alessandro growled.

  “Well, I do,” Miranda said. “Along with a host of other talents.”

  “So what?” he returned. “I can make them all go away, just like that.”

  He snapped his fingers…or at least, he tried to snap his fingers. For some reason, his forefinger and thumb stumbled over each other without making any sound at all. Hmm. Apparently, snapping your fingers was harder than it looked at first glance.

  “You know, Alessandro,” the prima said, her expression shifting to one of almost pity, “I wanted to like you. Ava told me a little about what was going on in Pico Negro, and it sounded like you got a pretty raw deal. I wanted to help out. That’s why I said it was okay for you to come stay here in Santa Fe for a while, even though some people in the Castillo clan weren’t very happy about me inviting a null to come live among us.”

 
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