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Hidden gifts, p.19

Hidden Gifts, page 19

 

Hidden Gifts
 


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  Cat screwed up her nose and gave her brother an “I don’t think so” kind of look. “More like she doesn’t have anyone else to dump all this on, since Louisa and Malena both have toddlers and are busy enough already. But whatever. I’m just glad it’s all’s well that ends well over here.”

  About all I could do was smile in response to that comment. Judging by the tension in Rafe’s jaw line, he didn’t share his sister’s assessment of the situation.

  And I had a feeling he was going to let me know all about it once she was safely out of the house.

  Somehow, though, I managed to summon a smile as she came over and gave me a quick hug, and said she’d text my parents to let them know I was okay. I hadn’t realized they’d known I was missing, but I supposed that Cat or Rafe had probably reached out to them for help.

  “Oh, would you?” I said. “This not having a phone thing is a real pain.”

  She assured me she’d take care of it, then said she’d see me in the morning so she could drive me to my hair and makeup appointments. We hadn’t visited either the makeup artist or the hairstylist, which made me think Genoveva also had a very distinct vision for what she wanted, a vision that apparently didn’t require my input. Which was fine by me. Right then I was so tired, I really didn’t care what she had planned, even if it turned out to be pigtails or cornrows.

  After Cat left, an ominous quiet fell on the living room. I picked up my glass of water and took another drink, glad I had something I could do to fill the silence.

  “Do you know why you did it?” Rafe asked at last.

  “Did what?”

  “Teleported away from the cathedral.”

  “I didn’t really do anything,” I told him. “It just sort of…happened.”

  He’d been standing off to one side, close to the fireplace, but now he came over to the sofa and sat down next to me. I didn’t know for sure whether that was a good thing or not; having him this close tended to both excite me and put me on edge. For better or worse, some hidden quality about his physical presence seemed to have the power to set all my nerve endings on fire.

  “Miranda.”

  That was all he said, but it was enough. From his tone, I could tell that Cat had informed him what the two of us had been talking about back at the cathedral, and it wasn’t trading our favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes.

  I swallowed. “All right…I was upset.”

  “Because Cat told you about my girlfriends?”

  Plural. Not one, but several. Or maybe it had been more than several. For all I knew, Rafe could be the biggest man-whore in Santa Fe. Did I want to know the truth? I didn’t think I could answer that question honestly.

  “Yes, she told me,” I said in a very small voice. “I guess it just came as something of a shock.”

  “Because you never had any boyfriends back in Arizona.”

  “Exactly that.”

  He reached over and took my hand. “I didn’t know about that. It’s not like your parents talked to my mother very much. I had no idea what was going on with you, what was happening in your life.”

  I tried to ignore the warmth of his skin, the strength of the fingers that were now entwined with mine. All they did was distract me, and I needed to be able to focus. “Would it have made a difference?”

  No reply right away. His gaze traveled to the hearth, where suddenly the wood that was laid there blazed up into a bright fire. Nice trick. Of course all witches and warlocks could call the fire to them — even I could manage such a thing — but not all of them could do it while seated across the room like this. I had to have my finger actually touching the wick of a candle or the kindling in a fireplace to create a spark, but clearly Rafe was far more powerful than I.

  I wondered what it looked like when he shifted into animal form, and whether he’d ever allow me to witness such a transformation.

  Then he spoke. “I honestly don’t know if it would have made a difference.”

  Anger flared in me, and I tried to pull my hand away from his, but his fingers clamped down on mine, preventing me from doing so.

  “Listen, Miranda,” he said, his voice low, urgent, “I’m only telling you the truth. Would you rather hear a pleasant lie?”

  Guilt quickly swallowed my irritation, because of course I’d lied to him just a few moments earlier. “I don’t know,” I muttered.

  “I think you do. Anyway, you have to understand how angry I was with my mother for putting me in this situation. She could have reached out to your parents and told them that they no longer had any obligation to the Castillo clan, that the bargain my grandmother had made died with her. But my mother wouldn’t do that. She claimed it was because breaking the bargain would have been an insult to her mother’s memory, but I think it was also because she’s just that stubborn.” He paused, fingers clenched on mine, as if he was trying to communicate his intentions with that pressure of skin against skin. “So yeah, I dated a lot of civilians, mostly to spite her. I liked them all…some of them a lot. I knew those relationships would never go anywhere, though. If you’re angry with me for not staying pure, well, there isn’t much I can do about that, except to say those women are part of my past. You’re my future, Miranda. If I’d known how strong and smart and beautiful you were, maybe I wouldn’t have bothered with dating civilian women. Maybe I would’ve saved myself for you. I can’t change what I did, so all I can do in this moment is make sure you’re happy here and now.”

  These words were spoken so earnestly, his expression so sincere as he gazed into my eyes, that I thought I might start sobbing then and there. Somehow I managed to hold back the tears, since I really didn’t know how he would react if I completely lost it.

  How could I hold those past relationships against him? I could understand all too well his anger toward Genoveva, because I’d felt that same anger myself, although probably not as intensely. My parents could only uphold their end of the bargain; they’d never had the power to break it.

  “It’s all right,” I said at last, once I was sure my voice wouldn’t shake too badly and I wasn’t in any danger of bursting into tears. “I was being unreasonable.”

  “I don’t know about unreasonable. Feelings are just…feelings. It’s how we act on them that’s important.”

  And now he was being all too reasonable. Guilt roiled within me. How could I keep secret where I’d been earlier this evening, after he’d just been so open and heartfelt with me? If we were going to make this work, we had to be honest with one another. Voice hesitant, I said, “Rafe, I — there’s something I need to tell you.”

  I could feel his body tense, but he sounded calm enough as he responded. “What is it?”

  “I — I didn’t teleport to the museum. I was in Simon’s apartment.”

  Dead silence. About the only thing I found reassuring right then was that Rafe didn’t try to pull his hand from mine. Maybe he’d simply forgotten he was touching me.

  “You mean you went straight there?”

  I nodded miserably. “Yes. At first, I didn’t even know where I was. Then I realized that I’d materialized at his place. I couldn’t figure out why, but I knew I needed to get out of there. I was just going down the stairs when I bumped into him.”

  Rafe’s eyes glinted in the firelight, but he didn’t look precisely angry. Quite possibly he was furious, and the strange, blank expression he currently wore was his attempt to hide his reaction to my revelation. “You spent all that time with him?”

  “Well, not exactly. He could tell I was upset, but he had an hour left on his shift. I stayed in his apartment and watched TV until he was off work. He came up, we talked, had some pizza. That was it.”

  “What did you talk about?” Still in that cool, controlled voice, the one that somehow frightened me more than any outward raging. I didn’t have enough experience with men to know whether this sort of reaction was normal or not. My father rarely got angry, and when he did, he let you know exactly why he was pissed off a
t you. I’d never had to play guessing games with him.

  “I talked about my situation, about how I didn’t know what I should do. Not in any specifics,” I added hastily, since I could see Rafe’s brows start to draw together in a fearsome frown. “I just needed a friend to talk to. And it did help, Rafe. I knew I needed to come back and be with you.”

  “And I suppose Simon was very understanding about all this.”

  “Yes, he was.” I paused for a moment, not sure whether I should say anything else. But the lies I’d told earlier still weighed on me, and I knew I needed to tell him everything I could, no matter how awful it might sound. “I mean, he was disappointed. He — he likes me, I guess. But nothing happened. You have to believe that.”

  Now Rafe did let go of my hand. He pushed himself up from the couch and went over to the hearth, where he took the poker from the set of fireplace tools there and began prodding at the fire. I got the distinct impression he wished he was stabbing Simon with that poker rather than the logs.

  Should I go to him? I sat on the couch, staring at the stiff set of his shoulders, and wished I had more experience in these sorts of situations. That way, I might know what to do.

  Gathering my resolve, I said softly, “If I’m willing to forgive you all those girlfriends, then you need to let this thing with Simon go. Like I said, nothing happened. Not a friendly hug, not a touch on the hand, not a kiss. Nothing. I left because I wanted to be here with you. Otherwise….”

  “Otherwise?”

  “I would have stayed there. I would have let him kiss me. But I don’t want Simon to kiss me.” Now I stood up and went to stand next to Rafe by the fireplace. I reached out and touched his free hand, trailed my fingers over his skin. “I want you to kiss me, Rafe.”

  For the longest moment, he didn’t move, didn’t respond. Then, very deliberately, he put the poker back in its stand, turned, and cupped my face in his hands. His mouth came down on mine, urgent, my mouth opening to his so he could taste me. One hand moved from my cheek to my hair, tangling in it, making sure I couldn’t get away.

  Not that I wanted to. I might have blamed the sensation on standing so close to the fire, but I knew the heat that trembled all through me now had everything to do with Rafe, with the way I couldn’t help but react to him. I understood that something of the roughness of this kiss was his way of laying claim to me, of making sure I knew that I was his. An instinctual, atavistic reaction, one I might have resented in anyone else, but now only made me want him that much more.

  It was going to be a long wait until our wedding night, even though it was only twenty-four hours away.

  At last he let go of me. I staggered back a pace, trying to catch my breath. He remained where he was, although he put one hand up against the hearth of sculpted plaster, as if he needed it to help steady himself.

  “Wow,” I said at last.

  He smiled then, a quick, wolfish grin that reminded me of his inborn talent, the ability to take on an animal’s shape. “I guess I got a little carried away.”

  “It’s all right,” I said. “Well, more than all right, but you know what I mean.”

  At once he moved away from the fireplace, and came over and took both my hands in his. “I never used to be the jealous type.”

  “There’s nothing to be jealous about,” I protested. “Like I told you, nothing happened.”

  “Oh, I got that part. I believe you.” He bent and touched his lips to my forehead, and even that chaste kiss sent need leaping through me all over again. “It’s just the mere thought that someone else would want you, and that the ‘someone else’ in question is someone right here in Santa Fe…that’s what’s giving me the most trouble. Someone pining for you back in Arizona is one thing, but….”

  “‘Want’ is kind of a strong word,” I said. “All he said was that he likes me.”

  “Guy code for ‘I want you,’” Rafe returned. “Trust me.”

  I supposed he should know, since he had so much more experience with love and desire than I did. And it really wasn’t worth arguing over. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Simon, although I told myself that he’d meet someone else soon enough. He’d probably found himself attracted to me because I was new and different. Anyone as kind and smart and attractive as Simon wouldn’t stay single for very long.

  “All right,” I said. “But it’s immaterial, because I’m here with you. There’s nothing to be jealous about.”

  “And you won’t see him again?”

  That question made me pause. “I can’t say that,” I said carefully. “Because we’re friendly with one another, and frankly, Rafe, you don’t have the right to tell me who I can and can’t see. I don’t have any other friends here.”

  He began to frown, but then his expression cleared. “You’re right, of course. I shouldn’t be acting like something out of a Dickens novel, threatening to lock you up if you don’t do as I say. Just — ” The words stopped there, as if he wasn’t sure how he should phrase what he’d intended to say next.

  “Just what?” I asked.

  “If you’re going to see him, just please let me know. I won’t ask to go with you, I won’t press you about the details. I guess all I’m asking is that you don’t lie to me about it.”

  The anger had gone from his expression, and now all I saw was worry. I went to him and laid my head on his chest, put my arms around him. “Of course I’ll tell you. Anyway, it won’t be anytime soon, because you’re going to be whisking me away to a romantic week in Taos, right?”

  “Right,” he said. His lips brushed against my hair. “You’ll be far too occupied to even think about Simon.”

  I grinned up at Rafe. “Is that a promise?”

  “Oh, yes,” he replied. “Yes, it is.”

  15

  Confrontations

  Rafe

  It was difficult saying goodbye to Miranda, to stand quietly and let her go inside the casita and shut the door. Crazy how it seemed that each time he kissed her, his body craved more of her, needed all of her, needed to make her his in the most physical way possible. He didn’t want to let her out of his sight, wanted her to stay the night at his place. But he knew they would be together forever after tomorrow afternoon, and he told himself that he could wait these last few hours, no matter how difficult the separation might feel at the moment.

  As he was walking back to his Jeep, his phone buzzed in his pocket. His first reaction was to ignore the call, but he knew that wasn’t a very good idea, not with the wedding so close at hand. The friends and cousins who’d signed on to be his groomsmen were pretty self-sufficient, true, and yet there was still the possibility of some last-minute snafu.

  When Rafe saw his mother’s number on the phone’s display, he had to suppress a mental groan. He should have listened to his gut and let the call roll over to voicemail. However, now that he knew who was calling, he realized he’d have to pick up.

  “Yes?” he said, digging in his jeans pocket for the Wrangler’s keys.

  “Can I speak to you for a moment, please?”

  Busted. He’d hoped he would be able to quietly drop Miranda off at the casita and then slip away before his mother even realized he was on the property, but clearly that had been a vain hope. “Sure,” he said, wondering as he replied what she was going to grill him about now. Had Cat let slip something about what happened with Miranda this afternoon? Or had Genoveva witnessed Miranda’s disappearance after all, despite Cat’s assurances that their mother had had her back turned when it happened, and therefore couldn’t have seen anything?

  Several times during his adolescence, Rafe had wondered whether his mother had eyes in the back of her head. If she really had seen anything in the cathedral, it would just prove his teenage hypothesis.

  Mouth set, he turned away from his car and let himself back in through the gate that led into the gardens. A moment on the winding gravel path that traced its way through frost-yellowed grass, and then he was climbing the steps which l
ed him to the veranda and the side door into the kitchen.

  It was unoccupied. He went down the hall and peeked into his mother’s study, assuming she would be there, but it was empty as well.

  Rafe frowned. After dinner, Genoveva tended to retreat to her study, usually to check her emails and phone calls, or possibly to read if no clan business intruded. By now it was past eight o’clock, and so she should have already finished her evening meal. Usually it was just her and Cat, since Rafe’s father Eduardo was often kept late at one of his restaurants — by design, as far as Rafe could tell — and sometimes Genoveva dined alone, if Cat had plans for the evening.

  He heard the sound of voices coming from the front of the house, and realized his mother must be in the living room. And it wasn’t Cat he heard with her, but his father. That was unusual. Rafe grimaced, praying that this was all just a little pre-wedding family gathering and not the grilling he feared.

  Cat was nowhere in evidence. Out with the bridesmaids? Maybe; it was the one pretext she could have used to stay away from Genoveva, the one plausible excuse that would have allowed her to avoid any rebukes about not being home the evening before the wedding.

  As soon as he entered the living room, Genoveva asked, “How was your dinner with Miranda?”

  Rafe had been prepared for this, and so he found it easy enough to reply, “Very good. We went to Andiamo.”

  It was the sort of intimate place one might take a fiancée for dinner, but because it wasn’t one of his father’s restaurants, Rafe knew he could safely lie about being there.

  Genoveva’s mouth thinned. Although she knew competition was necessary, she still was not overly happy to hear about any of the family patronizing an establishment that didn’t belong to them. However, her voice was more pleasant than Rafe had anticipated as she said, “I’m glad to hear it. Your father and I were just going over the schedule for the day.”

  “Ah,” Rafe replied. “Well, if you’ve made any changes, you need to make sure you let me know. I’d hate to show up for photos even ten minutes late.”

 
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