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Haunted hearts, p.17

Haunted Hearts, page 17

 

Haunted Hearts
 


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  “Very generous of you,” he said, wishing she’d speak her piece and then get the hell out so he could continue with his quest to find oblivion. That seemed to be the only way he would be able to get Elena Salazar out of his head.

  Miranda shrugged. “Or misguided. Anyway, it seems as though I’ve made a mistake, because from where I stand, you just look like a raging asshole.”

  He blinked at her. “What?”

  “You heard me.” Miranda crossed the room, picked up the shot glass, and marched it over to the sink, where she poured it down the drain.

  “Hey!”

  She turned around and faced him, hands planted on her hips. The big diamond on her left hand glinted in the sunlight pouring through the kitchen windows. “‘Hey,’ what? As far as I can tell, it looks as though you’ve had enough already. I came over here to see how you were doing, but obviously, you decided to have a pity party even though this is all your fault.”

  “‘My fault’?” he repeated. His brain didn’t feel as if it was firing on all cylinders, but he knew there had to be something wrong with her remark, even if he couldn’t quite figure out what it was at the moment. But he did know that he wasn’t the one who’d stomped out of the house without even bothering to talk about what was the matter.

  “You heard me.” Miranda’s gaze flickered toward the bottle of tequila; he got the impression that she wanted to go over, pick it up, and pour its contents down the drain as well.

  Over his dead body.

  “I wanted to talk to Elena,” he said. “She’s the one who was being difficult.”

  He was sort of proud of himself for pronouncing that last word correctly. The syllables hadn’t wanted to form themselves just right, but he’d forced them out anyway. Actually, he should probably have been glad that his English hadn’t deserted him altogether.

  “Can you blame her? How could you not tell her about your power?”

  “Wasn’t any of her business.”

  Miranda cocked a well-arched eyebrow at him. “Seriously? I’d say it was her business if she was living here with you.”

  “She was staying here,” he said, pronouncing “stay” with exaggerated emphasis. “We weren’t living together.”

  “So, nothing was going on?”

  He scowled and suddenly found something terribly fascinating about the tiled floor beneath his feet. If he’d been asked that question even a couple of hours earlier, he could have honestly stated that no, absolutely nothing was going on between him and Elena Salazar. Now, though….

  “Nothing much was going on,” he said.

  “Uh-huh. It probably would have been better for you to tell her the truth before that ‘nothing much’ happened.”

  “I didn’t know it was going to happen.”

  The prima sent him a disbelieving stare at that comment. And okay, he’d had a feeling something might happen…or maybe it had been a hope or a wish rather than a feeling. All he knew was that he’d been having a more and more difficult time ignoring the way he responded to Elena, but at the same time, he’d honestly had no reason to believe that his feelings would be reciprocated in any way.

  “Justify your behavior to yourself any way you want,” Miranda said. “But you need to get your shit together, Alessandro. You need to remember that this may be Ava’s house, but this house is in Castillo territory, which means I get the final say about who stays here.”

  He forced himself to focus on her face, on her expression. Those green eyes of hers were beautiful, but right then, they were hard and sharp as emeralds. She looked righteously pissed off. Why she should be so upset on Elena’s behalf, when he knew the two women hadn’t even met until this afternoon, he had no idea…but also knew that was the expression of a woman who would not be crossed.

  “Is that a threat?”

  For a long moment, she didn’t reply, only stared back at him. Then she crossed her arms.

  “Only if you make it one.”

  Elena opened her eyes and stared up at the unfamiliar ceiling overhead, white plaster with heavy beams, or vigas, bisecting its surface. For just a second or two, she couldn’t recall where she was, since that ceiling didn’t look like the one at Ava’s house, or the one from the bedroom where she’d spent most of her life. Then she remembered she was at Lorna’s condo. She was sleeping here because she’d had a huge fight with Alessandro and had walked out.

  Damn. That brief moment when she didn’t remember what had happened the day before had been way too short.

  But now memory rushed back, and she had to deal with all of it — not just her argument with the Escobar warlock and the subsequent shattering of their fragile relationship, but also her betrayal by her own family.

  Right then, she wasn’t sure which hurt the most.

  Deep breaths, she told herself. One step at a time. That’s all you can do.

  She slid out of bed and stepped into the flip-flops she’d left next to the nightstand, then headed out to the kitchen. The clock on the stove told her it was a little past seven-thirty. She’d actually slept better than she expected to, thanks probably to Belshegar’s extended visit the night before. He’d stayed with her for hours, had hidden himself in the bedroom when the delivery guy showed up with the pizza she’d ordered. In fact, Belshie had even sat on the floor of the living room and eaten pizza with her while she watched a stupid action movie on satellite streaming in an attempt to forget everything that had happened earlier in the day.

  At least she’d known that her demon friend could eat human food; they’d shared a midnight snack or two as she was growing up. But no, she didn’t want to think about that, because then she’d have to think about Las Vegas and the family she’d left behind…and everything they’d done to her.

  Time to get coffee going, and to inspect the cupboards to see if there was anything she could eat for breakfast or whether she’d have to order takeout for that, too. But since Lorna used this place as an Airbnb, there was instant oatmeal and several kinds of breakfast cereal — and, infinitely more appealing, frozen waffles in the freezer and butter and syrup in the fridge.

  Elena got out several waffles and left them on a plate to thaw as she waited for the coffee to finish brewing. Miranda wouldn’t be over until ten, which meant there was plenty of time to get ready, to sit and watch the morning news while she ate if she wanted to.

  However, Elena found she really didn’t want to see what was on the news. There was enough turmoil in her own life that she had no desire to watch other people’s troubles. Maybe once all this was straightened out — maybe once she had a bank account set up and knew she’d be getting her stipend, once she’d figured out where she was going to live and what she was going to do with herself — maybe then she’d feel ready to become a part of the greater world. For right now, though, she had to focus on herself.

  But not on Alessandro. As she poured coffee into a mug, she had to fight to keep herself from looking up to see if he would be there as well, getting his own coffee. They’d fallen into a routine of sharing breakfast, of discussing what they planned to do with their day. Nothing momentous, nothing earth-shattering, but there had been something comfortable and downright cozy about knowing he would be there at the table with her.

  Well, he wasn’t here now, and she needed to get over it. Spitefully, she hoped he’d spent a miserable night tossing and turning, beating himself up for the way he’d treated her. Okay, maybe that wasn’t entirely fair. As Belshegar had pointed out, Alessandro’s sins were those of omission, not active misrepresentation. Even so, Elena knew she wasn’t ready to forgive him.

  And you don’t need to, she told herself after she was done with her waffles and had rinsed her plate and mug and put them in the dishwasher. Or at least, you don’t have to forgive him right now. Take care of your own business and forget about him.

  Probably easier said than done, but for the next hour, she made herself focus on getting ready, on getting the most businesslike of her outfits together —
which wasn’t much, just jeans and flats and a button-up sleeveless shirt, but better than flip-flops and a peasant blouse — and blow-drying her hair and putting on a little makeup. Most likely, none of that was really necessary to open a bank account, but those small rituals still made her feel a bit better, a bit more in control of the situation. And while going to the bank probably wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world, it still felt exciting to her, simply because she’d never had a bank account, never had any money of her own. This felt like another step into a world where she would finally have her own power, and she was looking forward to it.

  When Miranda knocked on the door of the condo at just two minutes after ten, Elena felt ready to face the day, to do whatever needed to be done. And although the prima gave her a quick, appraising glance, as if to check for any telltale signs that she’d had a rough night or cried herself to sleep, she knew she looked just fine.

  “Ready?” Miranda asked.

  “I sure am.”

  They went to a local bank at a nearby shopping center, and signed Elena up for both a checking and a savings account, using some of the cash Lorna had given her the day before. That task was handled in less than twenty minutes, so soon enough they were back in Miranda’s car and headed over to the CPA’s house, Elena holding on to the strap of her purse with its precious cargo of her temporary checks and savings account deposit book. Technically, she really didn’t need any of those items, since she could access her accounts online, but they made her feel as if those accounts were real — especially since she wouldn’t be getting her debit card for five days to a week. They’d had to send the cards to Miranda’s house, since Elena didn’t have a permanent address yet and she hadn’t felt comfortable using the condo’s address, but the prima promised her she would contact her as soon as they showed up.

  “And of course you can make a withdrawal by going to the bank in person,” she added. “It’s nice that it’s walking distance from the condo.”

  Elena knew Miranda was only trying to be helpful. However, it was sort of depressing to think that she might be there longer than the week it would take for her debit card to arrive. The place was certainly nice enough, but it also felt extremely temporary, a way station and nothing more. Where she’d end up after that, she had no idea. So many things were up in the air at the moment.

  However, the visit with Lorna reassured her that she certainly didn’t need to worry about being destitute. The accountant witch took her bank account information and entered it in her database, and then worked her way through a sequence that apparently would start the money flowing.

  “I’ve transferred ten thousand for now,” she said once she was done and had turned back around from her computer screen. “Five to your checking account, and five to your savings account. The regular disbursements will start on July first. As to the rest…that’s really up to you.”

  “Up to me?” Elena responded, not quite sure what Lorna meant.

  “Whether you want to pursue legal action,” Miranda said gently. “I talked to Hugh Castillo last night — he’s a Castillo cousin who specializes in finance law. He says you definitely have an actionable case, based on the forged documents that were used to siphon off your money, but as the injured party, you’re the one who needs to bring the suit. We can also go after the notary separately if it’s proved that they acted with knowledge of the fraud that was occurring.”

  Fraud? Injured party? Actionable case? Just those phrases on their own were enough to make Elena’s head hurt. While she was justifiably angry at her father and grandmother, did she really want to drag them into court over this?

  “I — I’m not sure,” she stammered, and Lorna sent her a sympathetic glance.

  “You don’t have to decide right now,” she said. “But I agree with Miranda that you definitely have a case. Don’t you want that money back?”

  Part of her did, of course. After all, those missing payments added up to almost a quarter million dollars. That amount of cash would allow her to go to college, put a down payment on a house…give her the kind of life she’d honestly never expected to have. But to have to go to court?

  “Maybe it’s punishment enough that they’ll be cut off my stipend from now on,” she said quietly. “They’ll have to use their own money instead of mine.”

  Miranda and Lorna looked at each other. Elena didn’t pretend to read minds, but she could tell they both thought she was being way too kind. Maybe she was. Right then, she just felt tired, even though it was early in the day and she really hadn’t done much of anything yet.

  “Well, like Lorna said, you don’t have to decide right away,” Miranda told her. “But you need to think hard about this, Elena. Do you really want them to get away with stealing your money?”

  She crossed her arms and looked away from the prima and out the window. An aspen tree grew out in the yard, its fresh green leaves fluttering in the breeze. Beyond it was a wall with hollyhocks blooming exuberantly in shades of pink and white and deep, deep maroon.

  The garden scene should have helped to calm her, but instead she only felt more anxious. She wanted to put the whole mess behind her…and yet, at the same time, she wished her father and grandmother could be punished for what they’d done.

  “I don’t know.”

  Miranda let out a huff of a breath. “Well, even if you don’t want to press charges, I think it’s high time they came to Santa Fe and gave an explanation for themselves.”

  Oh, no. That was the last thing Elena wanted. This whole situation might be barely survivable if she could just avoid seeing them. It was sort of the same way she felt about Alessandro; she might be able to pick up the pieces of her heart as long as she never had to look into his eyes again.

  “I don’t think you need to do that — ”

  “Oh, but I do,” Miranda cut in. “If you want to turn the other cheek, then that’s your choice, but I’m the prima of this clan. It’s my duty to make sure people know there are consequences for their actions. What kind of signal do you think it will send if their only ‘punishment’ — if you can even call it that — is to no longer have access to your money? They’ll have gotten away with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

  Lorna spoke then, tone gentler than Miranda’s. “She’s right, you know. There needs to be zero tolerance for this sort of behavior. Besides, if they come to talk to Miranda, then at least they’ll have a chance to give their side of the story. I honestly don’t know what kind of reason they could offer to justify what they’ve done, but this is giving them the opportunity to try.”

  All right, that clarification made some sense, but Elena still wished there was some way to avoid a confrontation. Just as she had so many times as a young girl, she wished she could call out to Belshegar to come and take her away from here, take her to his world. Unfortunately, that sort of escape wasn’t an option. He’d told her that, while he could come here, he didn’t have the power to bring her to his own plane of existence, and even if he did, the very air there was toxic to humans and she’d never survive.

  “Okay,” she said. “Do what you have to do. I don’t like it, but…I understand.”

  “You’ll feel better afterward,” Miranda assured her. “I know you will.”

  Could the prima see the future? Elena didn’t know if that was one of her many talents. Probably not; she had a feeling the other woman was simply doing her best to put her mind at ease, to let her know she could make it through this and come out the other side ready to face the rest of her life.

  She could only hope the prima was right.

  14

  Someone was slamming his head with a mallet. Alessandro released a muffled groan and then rolled over on his back, hoping the change in position might quiet the pounding in his brain. Unfortunately, it only seemed to get worse, and now felt as though he was getting bludgeoned on his temples as well as the back of his head.

  He blinked at the room around him, at least somewhat relieved that
the curtains were drawn and it was cool and dark in here. Even so, every single muscle in his body ached, and his gut grumbled at him sourly.

  Was he going to throw up? He really didn’t want to throw up. It would hurt too much.

  Lying flat on his back and moving as little as possible seemed to help somewhat, although the room still felt as if it wanted to spin rather than stay firmly in place.

  Maybe drinking more than half a bottle of tequila had been a really bad idea.

  He didn’t think he’d ever drunk that much before. Living at home had kept him from making that particular bad choice; he didn’t want to think how his mother would have reacted if he’d ever allowed her to see him in this state. Even when he’d gone into San Salvador, he hadn’t drunk all that much, mostly because a warlock always had to be on his guard when surrounded by civilians.

  Very carefully, he raised himself to a sitting position. Even that slight movement was enough to send those sledgehammers smashing down on his skull again, and he closed his eyes and breathed in and out a few times. Despite the pain in his skull, the nausea seemed to have subsided a bit.

  Time to try some painkillers.

  He eased himself out of bed and stood, then held on to the edge of the nightstand for a moment to gain his balance. Once he thought he was capable of forward motion, he took one step, then another. Another after that, and another, and he was in the bathroom.

  Medicine cabinet.

  He opened the door and looked inside, found a bottle of ibuprofen, and tipped three tablets into the palm of his hand. All three went into his mouth at once, and he poured some water into the cup that sat by the sink and drank it all down. The cool water felt so good on his throat, he thought it could also help him in other ways. After setting down the cup, he filled his hands with water and splashed it on his face, not once, not twice, but three times.

  Maybe he still didn’t feel quite human, but Alessandro did feel slightly better after performing that ritual. He stared at himself in the mirror and took stock: reddened eyes, dark stubble on his cheeks and chin, hair sticking out all over, dents in the side of his face where the folded sheets beneath him had cut into the flesh.

 
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