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Hidden gifts, p.17

Hidden Gifts, page 17

 

Hidden Gifts
 


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  “Well, it’s a start,” Connor said, his voice grim. “But you need to find her. Now. Or Angela and I will come to Santa Fe to help you.”

  That was an outcome Rafe knew he couldn’t risk. He could just imagine the explosion if the McAllister prima and the Wilcox primus showed up in Santa Fe out of the blue and confronted his mother about their missing daughter. The fireworks could probably be seen all the way to the Four Corners region.

  “Oh, we’ll find her. Thanks for letting me know she’s not with you. Now we can start searching here around town. You have a good evening.” God, that sounded terrible. The last thing Angela and Connor would probably have was a good evening, now that they knew their daughter was missing. He added quickly, “Don’t worry — we’ll find her.”

  He jabbed the keypad to end the call, then dropped the phone on the tabletop, halfway expecting it to ring as soon as he let go. Cat raised an eyebrow at him.

  “That doesn’t sound as if it went very well.”

  Now was the time to take a swig of his beer. Rafe lifted the glass and drank, thinking that the bitterness of the pale ale was an accurate reflection of his current mood. “It could have gone worse. At least they haven’t shown up to start looking for Miranda.”

  Yet.

  Cat was eyeing the phone as if she thought it might suddenly lift off the tabletop and grow fangs. “I’m surprised they let you go that easily.”

  “So am I. But they think I’m going to get Marco on the case, so I suppose they’re willing to wait and see what happens. They’ve been in charge of their clans for a long time, which means they know it’s not a good idea to go barging into another witch family’s territory.” He pushed his hand through his hair and let it flop back over his forehead. It was getting too long, but cutting it was the least of his worries right now.

  “And what happens when they find out Marco can’t help?”

  Good question. Rafe shook his head. “I have no frigging idea.”

  13

  Safe Harbors

  Miranda

  I was standing in a half-familiar apartment, one with warm yellow walls and a mishmash of furniture that somehow managed to be charming in its eclectic clutter. Blinking, I put out a hand to touch one of those walls, just so I could reassure myself that I actually was there, that I hadn’t fooled myself into thinking a hallucination was reality.

  But, just like the coffee table at my parents’ house in Jerome, the wall was firm and solid under my fingertips. I looked back around the apartment, recognition slowly dawning.

  I had no idea why I’d come here, but I was standing in Simon’s flat above the wine tasting room.

  Holy shit.

  I sent a panicked look around the space, then let out a relieved breath when I realized I was alone. Of course Simon wouldn’t be here — it was late Saturday afternoon, and he’d told me he worked weekends so he’d have time to attend classes during the week. No doubt he was somewhere under my feet right now.

  My hands were shaking, and I fought to still them by grasping the strap of my purse, which — thank the Goddess — was still safely slung over my shoulder. I looked down and saw that I didn’t seem to have come to any harm. My feet were still encased in their dark brown boots, and I still had on my green leather jacket.

  All right. Now that it had happened a second time, I didn’t see how I could possibly deny that somehow I had acquired the gift of teleportation. I must have scared the living daylights out of Cat, disappearing like that right in front of her nose, because of course she had no way of knowing that I’d suddenly had random magical talents start showing up out of nowhere.

  Well, I’d been able to blink myself out of my parents’ house and back to the casita here in Santa Fe, although that had seemed more like an accident than anything else. I knew I needed to do the same thing now, or risk running into Simon. Why I’d come here, I had no idea, but I’d puzzle that one out later, when I was safely back in my temporary home.

  I visualized the casita, the bright accent colors, the dark beamed ceiling. Closing my eyes, I willed myself there, pictured myself calmly sitting on the living room couch.

  And…nothing happened.

  Goddammit.

  My pulse began to race, but I told myself that I needed to focus, couldn’t give in to panic. I’d done this before, so there was no reason to think I couldn’t do it again.

  Once more I shut my eyes, then imagined the casita and me sitting in it.

  I didn’t move a damn inch. My feet might as well have been nailed to the floor for all the good my visualizing had done me.

  All right. Clearly, my magic was failing me now, just as it had failed me all the previous years of my life. I’d have to get out of here the old-fashioned way. Good thing I had plenty of practice.

  I went to the door and put my hand on the knob, turned it slowly. All seemed clear on the small landing outside, so I closed the door behind me and willed the lock to engage, then began to tiptoe down the stairs that would lead me to the building’s rear exit.

  The cramped foyer was only a few steps away when Simon came around the corner, then stopped dead, staring at me incredulously.

  “Miranda? What are you doing here?”

  Damn. It seemed that the universe was conspiring against me. Since there was no way I could cover up my presence, I managed to smile and say, “Oh, I wanted to come by and talk. I would have called, but I dropped my phone and it’s dead.”

  None of this sounded very coherent to me, and apparently Simon had the same opinion, since a frown was pulling at his brows. “Why didn’t you come by the tasting room? I’m pretty sure I told you I worked on Saturdays.”

  “Oh, I know,” I said quickly. “I realized that after I knocked. I guess I just wasn’t thinking. But then I figured you probably wouldn’t want me bugging you on a Saturday afternoon when it has to be busy, so I thought I’d just go home and try again later.”

  “Hmm.” His expression was still dubious, but then he shrugged and said, “It’s not too bad, but it has been steady. I was just going up to my apartment to get a power cord for the tablet we use for our sound system — it just died on me. And hey,” he added, “I’m off in forty-five minutes. Why don’t you go up to my place and hang out, and I’ll come get you when I’m done?”

  “I don’t think — ” I began, but he cut me off.

  “It’s fine. I don’t mind. And you said you wanted to talk, didn’t you?”

  That had been a lie, something I’d made up to try to explain why he’d found me almost on his doorstep. However, I realized right then that I did want to talk to someone. I couldn’t tell Simon about my magical problems, of course, but I still thought it might help to have sympathetic ear while I unburdened myself about some of my other issues. Looking at the situation logically, I knew it probably wasn’t such a great idea to talk to a guy who was interested in me about my man troubles. Problem was, I didn’t have anyone else in Santa Fe that I could talk to. At least I’d already told Simon that I was going to patch things up with Rafe, so I had to hope his expectations for a romantic future with me wouldn’t be too high.

  “Yes,” I said. “But I don’t want to intrude. It’s Saturday night — maybe you already have plans.”

  He grinned. “Yeah, a date with my oenology textbook. You’re not intruding. Really.”

  At that point, I decided to stop protesting. He’d invited me, after all. And I needed a refuge, someplace to hole up for a while and figure out what the heck was going on with me.

  I offered him a smile. “Okay.”

  He led me back upstairs, then got his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door. We went inside, and he took a side tour into the kitchen, saying, “You want a glass of water or something?”

  Water sounded great. My mouth felt dry, although I didn’t know whether its current parched state was from nerves or some strange reaction to this latest round of teleportation. “Water is fine.”

  He got a glass from the cupboard, fil
led it from a pitcher inside the fridge, and handed it to me, then went into the living room, where he started hunting around in the drawers of the low painted cabinet that he used as a television stand. “Got it,” he said, pulling out a black power cord, presumably the one he needed for the tasting room’s tablet computer. “I wish I could hang around, but I need to get back downstairs. I’ll be up in about an hour, since I have to do a few things after we’re officially closed. The remote for the TV is on the coffee table.”

  “Thanks,” I replied, hoping it wouldn’t feel too weird to be here with him gone. Since I’d already accepted his invitation to stay, there wasn’t much I could do about it, though.

  After shooting me a quick smile, he let himself out. Right then, I wished I wore a watch, but I’d always just used my phone to check the time. Glancing into the kitchen, I was able to see the digital readout on the refrigerator door, which told me it was currently 5:12 p.m. and that the temperature in the apartment was seventy degrees.

  Okay, I could do this.

  I went to the couch and sat down, then retrieved the remote from the coffee table. It was the hour when the local news was on, and that seemed mindless enough to keep me occupied for the next forty-five minutes. As tempting as it might have been to look around the place, that would have been extremely rude. Simon had trusted me enough to leave me here in his apartment alone, and the last thing I wanted was to abuse that trust.

  Instead, I sat on the couch and watched the inevitable stories about fatal car accidents and house fires and local officials under investigation, and wondered if I was crazy for staying here. Rafe and Cat must be frantic over me disappearing again. Damn — I should’ve asked Simon if I could borrow his phone and let Cat know I was okay. No, wait, that wouldn’t have worked; I didn’t have her number memorized yet.

  Anyway, while I couldn’t help experiencing some guilt over Cat’s current state of mind, I wasn’t sure whether I felt the same way toward Rafe. He’d hid quite a few secrets of his own from me, after all. Maybe the oversight was simply because we hadn’t had the chance to really sit down and talk, but he could have mentioned those past girlfriends the night before. He’d had the opportunity, and he hadn’t taken it.

  By the time Simon reappeared at a little past six fifteen, I had drummed up enough righteous indignation over Rafe’s omissions that I wasn’t too worried about the current state of his brain anymore. Besides, I was fine. I’d hang out with Simon for a bit, then go back to the casita, or maybe over to Rafe’s house. Not having a phone was a real pain, since I couldn’t contact him first to find out where he might be. Logic told me he probably had gone home, though, because if Genoveva hadn’t seen me disappear — and I had no reason to believe she had — then Rafe was probably doing everything in his power to make sure she didn’t know that I was gone. I knew I would have done the same thing if I’d been in his position.

  “Hungry?” Rafe asked. “There’s a good pizza place down the street that delivers.”

  Pizza sounded great. I’d had a big breakfast with Rafe, but that was going on eight hours earlier by now. “Sure,” I replied. “I could go for some pizza.”

  He got out his phone, then handed it to me. “Here’s the menu. I’m open to pretty much anything, except anchovies.”

  The pizza with Italian ham and mushrooms and spicy oil sounded good to me. “The Bianca?”

  “That’s my favorite, actually. Good choice.” He touched the screen to select the pizza in question, and the app informed us that the food would be delivered in fifteen minutes. After setting the phone down, Simon headed into the kitchen, only to reappear with a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses.

  Doubt crept in. Was it really a good idea to sit here and drink wine with someone who wasn’t my fiancé? I tried to tell myself it really wasn’t a big deal; I’d just nurse one glass, or at most a glass and a half, and that should be all right, especially since I’d be having food with my wine this time.

  Simon was silent as he poured the wine, filling each glass about halfway. After offering one to me, he asked, “Are you going to tell me about it?”

  “About it what?” I sipped the wine, a merlot from the tasting room downstairs. He probably got an employee discount or something.

  “Well, I figure something big must be going on, or you wouldn’t have shown up on my doorstep like this.” He took a swallow of wine, but his gaze was still focused on me, dark, intent.

  A strange little thrill traced its way down my spine. Once again I found myself wondering how I would have reacted to Simon if I hadn’t known I was intended for Rafe. Despite their similar coloring, their looks were very different from one another. Both attractive, yes, but….

  And what did it matter, anyway? I wasn’t free to make my own choices. Only a few hours ago, I’d been thrilled at the thought of marrying Rafe. A few women in his past shouldn’t have changed that feeling. When you looked at the situation logically, it was ridiculous for me to have expected him to have stayed celibate, waited to be with me. Would I have demanded celibacy from a man who hadn’t been promised to me, someone I’d met casually?

  Of course not.

  Problem was, I didn’t feel like being logical. I’d denied myself, and it bothered me more than I could say that Rafe hadn’t done the same thing. About all I could do was hope I’d get over it eventually…and that I wouldn’t bump into any of his old girlfriends when I was roaming around Santa Fe.

  “I’m getting married tomorrow,” I said, my tone flat.

  Simon’s face didn’t exactly fall, but instead went blank. “Oh.”

  Not exactly the most encouraging of responses, but since I’d embarked on this discussion, I had no choice but to continue. “Yesterday after dinner I went and talked to him, and we worked things out. Or at least, I thought we did.”

  A certain confusion entered Simon’s eyes. “But you didn’t?”

  “It’s more like…he wasn’t honest with me. Not completely.”

  “Then you shouldn’t marry him,” Simon said without hesitation.

  “You make it sound so easy.”

  “Well, it should be.” Simon drank some of his merlot, then set down the glass. “This is the twenty-first century, Miranda. What’re they going to do, lock you in a tower or something?”

  “I — ”

  A knock came at the door then, and Simon got up to answer it. He took the pizza from the delivery guy, thanked him, and shut the door. This all happened so fast, I didn’t have a chance to offer to pay for the food, although I belatedly realized that Simon’s payment info was probably stored in the app and it had all been handled automatically anyway.

  He brought the pizza box over to the coffee table and set it down. “I’ll go get some plates.”

  I waited while he went in the kitchen, although I did have another sip of wine to fortify myself. He returned with the aforementioned plates, bright Fiesta ware, and a couple of paper towels for napkins.

  The next minute was a silent one, as we both took our plates and got some pizza, then ate quietly. Then Simon set down his half-eaten piece of pizza and shot me a quizzical look. “You didn’t answer my question.”

  “What, about being locked in a tower?”

  He nodded.

  How was I supposed to answer that? If there was anyone in Santa Fe who had a tower for locking people up, it would be Genoveva Castillo. Unfortunately, I couldn’t mention any names, or say anything that might hint at the witchy nature of the Castillo and McAllister families. “It’s complicated.”

  That lackluster response earned me an arched eyebrow. “Everything’s complicated. It’s got to be more than that.”

  Of course it was, but I had to watch what I said. “Can I ask you a question?”

  “Sure,” he replied, then took a bite of pizza. “I can’t guarantee I’ll answer it, though.”

  He wore a lopsided smile, so I guessed he was teasing me, at least a little bit. I pulled in a breath and said, “How would you feel if you’d k
nown since you were little that you were supposed to marry someone, and you made sure never to get in a relationship or get close to anyone because you knew you were going to end up with this one person anyway…and then you learned that the person you were promised to hadn’t done the same thing, had sort of proactively cheated on you?”

  “Is that what happened?” Simon asked. “This guy you’re supposed to be with had other girlfriends?”

  I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. It seemed like a good time to have another swallow of wine, to focus on the framed poster on the opposite wall, one that advertised a local wine festival at a place called Los Golondrinas.

  An awkward silence fell. I could tell he was thinking over what I had said, but at the same time, it seemed as though his opinion on the matter might not be the same as mine, since he didn’t quite look at me, appeared focused on snagging another piece of pizza for himself.

  “I’m not sure I would call it ‘cheating,’” Simons said at last, once he’d finished doctoring his pizza with some of the parmesan cheese that had come with it in little packets. “It’s not like you were together at the time.”

  “But it’s not fair!” I burst out.

  He shot me a curious look. “What’s ‘fair’?” he asked.

  Well, he had me there. It would be nice to think that life was fair, but I’d learned that lesson long ago, despite my mostly trouble-free childhood. If the world was truly fair, I would have inherited the magical gifts I was supposed to possess, would have been able to marry whomever I liked. All right, maybe my sister Emily had felt the same way, since as prima-in-waiting, she’d had to endure the consort search, had to marry the person she bonded with, but since that person turned out to be a smoking-hot distant Wilcox cousin, it wasn’t as though she’d suffered very much.

 
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