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Hidden gifts, p.20

Hidden Gifts, page 20

 

Hidden Gifts
 


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  That comment, with its underlying trace of sarcasm, elicited a frown, and Eduardo said, his tone mild enough, “I don’t think anything’s been changed. We just wanted to make sure everything goes smoothly.”

  Which it should, since Rafe’s father’s particular talent involved removing any obstacles that might interfere with a preferred outcome. It wasn’t exactly the same as having good luck, or otherwise Eduardo could have added a good deal of money to the clan’s coffers via some judicious lottery playing, or trying his hand at blackjack in one of the area’s numerous tribal casinos. No, it was more that everything tended to work out for him, from the refit of the house’s radiant in-floor heating system, which came in under budget and ahead of schedule, to the fourth restaurant in his local culinary empire basically dropping into his palm like a ripe fruit when the previous owner decided he’d had enough of Santa Fe and headed west to Los Angeles. While this talent was focused on Eduardo, those around him did tend to reap the benefits, as a sort of collateral beneficence.

  “Well, you don’t need to worry about anything on my or Miranda’s part,” Rafe said. While baiting his mother had become something of a pastime lately, he knew better than to be difficult on this one topic. She was already strung to the breaking point because of having to get this grand event coordinated with only forty-eight hours to plan, and any teasing would not be looked on kindly. “She’s going to go to bed early and get plenty of rest, and I plan to do the same.”

  “Good,” Genoveva said. Her eyes were narrowed slightly, as though she was attempting to find something in his remark that she could find fault with, and failing. “Cat is going to fetch her at nine, so we can have a big breakfast here at the house. I’d invite you, but of course you’re not supposed to see your bride before the ceremony.”

  A foolish superstition, but Rafe didn’t argue. While he would have endured his mother’s company that early in the morning in order to give Miranda some moral support, he knew she’d have Cat at her side, and so, he hoped, she should be able to survive the experience relatively unscathed.

  “It’s all right,” he said, his tone off-hand. “Tony and the rest of the guys are going to meet me for breakfast at Tia Sophia’s.”

  “Good,” Genoveva responded. “That way, you can keep an eye on them. I don’t entirely trust Tony to show up sober.”

  Rafe had to suppress a grin. In general, Tony was fairly responsible, despite his off-hand manner, but he’d gone out for a highly alcoholic brunch right before his older brother’s wedding, and no one — especially Genoveva — had ever forgotten it.

  “I think he’ll be fine, but okay.”

  “Make sure you’re at the cathedral no later than three-thirty,” she went on, apparently ignoring his comment. “You can change there, since I’m having all the men’s suits brought to the dressing room rather than sending them all over town to everyone’s houses.”

  “Three-thirty seems a little early,” he protested. “I thought the service wasn’t until five. Do you really think it’s going to take me an hour and a half to put on a set of tails?”

  “It’s better to be early than late,” she returned. “Bring your laptop if you need something to occupy yourself.”

  No, thanks. The last thing he needed was his computer getting lost amid the general hubbub, especially since he’d have to rely on Cat or one of his groomsmen to keep track of it. The plan was for him and Miranda to get on the road for Taos immediately following the reception, even though they wouldn’t reach their destination until close to midnight. Still, he preferred a late arrival to spending the night here in Santa Fe. That seemed too anticlimactic. Besides, he wanted to make sure he was far enough away that his mother couldn’t meddle in his first night with Miranda.

  “I’ll figure something out,” he said.

  “Good.” Genoveva turned toward Rafe’s father. “And you have the rental car all arranged?”

  “Yes. It’ll be waiting at your house, Rafe.”

  “My Jeep will do just fine — ”

  “You are not driving your new bride up to Taos in that rattletrap,” his mother said. “The limo will take you home, and then you can pick up the rental car for your drive north.”

  He bristled but said nothing. For years Genoveva had done her best to get him to give up the Wrangler, saying it was an eyesore and not something the prima’s son should be driving. He’d ignored her, since she really couldn’t compel him to get rid of the Jeep. Now, though, he thought he could see her side of the argument. Miranda was beautiful and passionate and pure. She deserved to go away on her honeymoon in style. And when they got back to Santa Fe, he’d have to buy a car for her. The Wrangler suited him just fine, but Miranda should have something better. Maybe that steel-gray Mercedes convertible he’d seen at the dealership when they went to buy Cat her SUV.

  Anyway, all that could be decided later. For now, he just wanted the wedding and reception to be over with so he could have more from his fiancée than mere kisses.

  “Okay,” he said. “Anything else?”

  His parents looked at one another. Then his father spoke. “No, I think that should cover it. We know this day has been a long time coming. We want it to be as perfect as possible. Your mother says that Miranda is an admirable young woman, and from the little I’ve seen of her, I have to agree. Take care of her, and treat her well.”

  “I will,” Rafe replied, somewhat wounded that his father could believe he would ever mistreat the woman he was supposed to marry. Then again, his past behavior might have led his parents to harbor their own doubts. Not that he would hurt Miranda physically, but that he might inflict a more subtle kind of wound, one of emotional neglect, solely because he had been forced into this.

  That wouldn’t happen, though. He knew he’d been very lucky to have Miranda turn out to be so close to his ideal. They still needed to get to know one another, but at least he could tell they were physically compatible.

  He wanted to laugh at himself for that thought. Physically compatible? More like horny as hell. He’d never before kissed someone who could arouse him so quickly. And better not to think about the way Miranda affected him, because all he’d accomplish was to get hot and bothered, and consummation was still a day away.

  “Three-thirty,” his mother warned him as he rose from the couch. “And no later.”

  “I’ll be early,” Rafe said, which was only the truth. He had a project he could work on if he needed to find some way to fill the time before the wedding, but he doubted he’d be able to concentrate. Might as well show up to the cathedral early and hope that by doing so he could get the time to the ceremony to pass more quickly…and also mollify his mother.

  Genoveva only raised an eyebrow at that reply, but she also got up from where she’d been sitting and came over and gave him a desultory hug. An even more awkward hug from his father — they’d never been a demonstrative family — and then Rafe was making his goodbyes and escaping through the front door.

  It did feel like an escape. All things considered, though, his parents had been remarkably mellow. Maybe Genoveva had finally decided to let up a bit because the goal was so near in sight. Less than the span of a day, and he would be safely married to Miranda McAllister.

  As Rafe backed out of the driveway and began to head for home, he found himself frowning, though. His mother might think all the loose ends were being neatly tied up, but he knew better. There was the issue of Miranda’s strange outbreaks of magical talent, for one thing. So far she hadn’t done anything that would endanger herself or anyone else, but there was always the possibility that she might, not consciously, but because her powers got out of hand. They’d just have to keep an eye on things, see what happened. It did seem as if this last episode had occurred because of extreme stress, so maybe if they did their best to make sure she didn’t get upset, her magical outbursts wouldn’t even be an issue.

  If necessary, he supposed they could go to his mother for help, but he’d prefer to avoid that.
Maybe Miranda’s father would get lucky and find something in his research that would allow her to take control of her abilities. Now that Rafe had Angela’s number, he could speak with Miranda’s parents as needed, and Genoveva would never have to know.

  Far more troubling than the question of Miranda’s magical powers, though, was this Simon character. Of all the problems Rafe had imagined he might have to deal with, being engaged to a woman he’d never met, the last thing he’d thought he would have to face was having a rival right here on his home turf. Miranda could claim that nothing had happened with Simon, and Rafe was inclined to believe her, even though at first she’d lied and tried to hide their latest meeting. But her stubborn insistence that she should be able to remain friends with the guy — that rubbed Rafe the wrong way. He wasn’t the kind of man who needed — or wanted — to keep his significant other all to himself. With time, he hoped Miranda would have her own circle of friends among the Castillos, and among the town’s civilians as well, if she met people she got along with. However, it was one thing to have a circle of girlfriends, and quite another to want to be friendly with a guy who clearly had wanted more from her than mere friendship.

  The farther he drove, the more irritated Rafe became. By the time he pulled up to his garage, he realized the last thing he wanted to do was meekly go inside the house and pretend everything was fine, that Miranda’s relationship with Simon was no big deal. She wanted to act like it was, but Rafe had a hard time believing that. When she’d teleported out of the chapel in a panicked rage, her destination hadn’t been his house or the casita where she’d been staying. No, she’d gone straight to Simon’s place. Why would her mind have sent her there, unless it had subconsciously believed that his apartment was her safest refuge in Santa Fe?

  That settled it. Rafe put the Jeep in reverse and backed out of the driveway, then headed into downtown, circling the Plaza so he could end up going the proper direction on San Francisco Street. Once he’d pulled up to the curb in front of the wine tasting room where Simon worked and turned off the engine, Rafe sat there for a moment, listening to his heart beat, trying to tell himself that this was crazy. He was getting married tomorrow, and yet he was here in front of the apartment where his rival lived.

  His rival. That sounded so…Victorian. But Rafe knew he had to warn Simon away. The situation with Miranda was new and easily compromised. The last thing he wanted was to have some other guy hanging around, possibly making her think of all the opportunities she might have had, if only her parents hadn’t agreed to this arranged marriage.

  Mouth grim, Rafe climbed out of the Jeep, straightened his jacket, and went over to the sidewalk and looked up. The wine tasting room was closed at this hour, even on a Saturday night, but he noted the lights in the apartment above. It appeared that Simon was at home.

  Perhaps that sign of occupancy should have been enough to tell Rafe he should go back to his place. Once he went upstairs and knocked on Simon’s door, he knew he’d be past the point of no return.

  No, that wasn’t precisely true. Rafe was pretty sure he’d passed that point as soon as he got out of the car. There was only one thing he could do now.

  He cut down the alley, then turned to his right. A few cars were parked here, each in a spot that proclaimed it was residents-only parking and that violators would be towed. In between two of the parking spaces was a concrete walkway that led up to a door, presumably the tenants’ entrance.

  The door was locked, but of course that didn’t matter to a warlock. Rafe put his hand on the handle and pushed it down, swinging the door inward. Here was a small foyer, with a set of stairs off to the right.

  He climbed those stairs, each step seeming to echo in his head with a resounding thump. However, he kept doggedly on, telling himself he was doing this for him and Miranda. They needed to be able to concentrate on one another, and their fragile new relationship, without having to deal with interference from an outsider.

  The stairs ended in a small landing with just one door. Rafe stood there for a moment, trying to gather himself. His heart was pounding, but from nerves, not because of the steps he’d just climbed.

  Then he raised his hand and knocked.

  No one answered right away. In fact, the silence that followed his knocks was so profound, he wondered if he’d been mistaken, if Simon had gone out for the evening and had left the lights on because he didn’t want to come back to a dark apartment.

  But then the door opened, and a man — young man, really, probably five years younger than Rafe — stared out at him with piercing dark eyes. Something about those eyes awoke a deep, atavistic fear in him, reaching all the way down to the magical gift that allowed him to turn into a wolf or a coyote or a mountain lion. The animal side of him recognized an enemy, making all his muscles tense, adrenaline shooting through his veins.

  The stranger gave him a confused smile. “Can I help you?”

  “Are you Simon?”

  “Um…yeah. And you are?”

  “I’m Miranda’s fiancé,” Rafe replied, not bothering to give his actual name. Better that this guy didn’t have any idea of who he was. The adrenaline still surged and seethed along his veins, but he held himself still, not wanting to make a move that might put Simon on his guard.

  “Oh.” Simon glanced past Rafe, although it was clear enough that no one else stood on the landing with him. “You’d better come inside, then.”

  Every instinct in Rafe’s body was telling him not to, that it was safer to stay out on the landing, and yet he found himself nodding. In the next moment, he had stepped past Simon and stood in the apartment, which looked fairly neat and clean for a guy in his early twenties living on his own. The television was paused, apparently in the middle of some sci-fi show — the screen held a frozen image of two spaceships firing at each other.

  Simon moved past him, picked up the remote, and turned off the TV. After setting down the remote, he crossed his arms and fixed Rafe with another of those black stares. His eyes were extremely dark, so dark it was hard to detect the pupils at all. “I suppose you’ve come here to warn me away from Miranda.”

  Rafe shoved his hands in his pockets. “Yes.”

  “Why?”

  That question only made him frown. “What do you mean, why? I’d think it was pretty obvious. We’re getting married tomorrow, and I don’t need some other guy hanging around, mooning after her.”

  Simon’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. “Did she say I was going to hang around and moon after her?”

  “No, but she didn’t have to. From what I could tell, you like her…a lot. But she’s going to be my wife, and you need to stay away.”

  That lopsided smile didn’t fade. “Why so threatened? She needed a friend, so I’ve been a friend to her, nothing more.”

  “But you want there to be more, don’t you?”

  Simon’s eyes glinted then, like the cut jet stones in a brooch Genoveva had inherited from her mother Isabel. Voice clear and cold, he said, “Oh, yes. I actually want there to be much, much more. You don’t have any idea of the treasure that’s dropped into your hands, do you?”

  “I — ” Rafe began, but it was as though his tongue had stuck to the roof of his mouth. He couldn’t get out another syllable, even if he wanted to. Likewise, his entire body felt frozen, his feet glued to the floor. What the hell was going on?

  “That’s why I made friends with Miranda,” Simon continued, his tone friendly, reasonable, as if nothing strange at all was going on. “She has the potential to be so much more than what she is now. All she needs is someone to give her guidance, to show her how to tap into the gifts that have slept within her all these years. And I’ll be the one to do that for her.”

  With every ounce of will he possessed, Rafe struggled against the force that seemed to keep him from speaking, from moving. Nothing happened. It was like those times when he was younger and had awoken from night terrors, his entire body trapped, immobile, beneath the heavy covers.


  “Keep trying,” Simon said with a chuckle. “I’m afraid you’re not strong enough to break free. However, you can still be useful to me. I’m going to let you go after this, Rafe. I’ll let you go, and you won’t remember a thing. I need you to do a favor for me, though. You see, I need Miranda to come to me of her own free will. She needs to choose me, and walk away from you. That means you need to hurt her so terribly that she has no choice but to run to me. Do you think you can do that?”

  Rafe wished he could shake his head. He wanted to tell Simon he would do no such thing. Actually, what he really wanted was to have the use of his hands so he could wrap them around the other man’s throat. Never before had he wanted to kill anyone, but now a red, murderous rage rose up in him, making him wish he could see Simon’s blood spilled on the floor.

  “Oh, don’t try to fight it. I can tell you’re angry. I need you to forget about that, Rafe. What reason do you have to be angry?”

  As suddenly as it had come, the wave of anger dissipated. He stood there, blank and empty, waiting to be told what to do.

  Simon smiled. “That’s better. It’s really simple, Rafe. You’re going to tell Miranda you don’t love her, that you don’t want her. You’re going to do this at the worst possible time. Can you think when that might be?”

  An image formed in Rafe’s mind of Miranda standing before him in her wedding gown. “Yes,” he said, his tongue feeling thick and clumsy, as though he’d just been given a shot of novocaine.

  “Good. Now you’re going to go home and forget that you ever came here. You’re going to get ready for your wedding, and no one is going to think there’s anything strange about your behavior. Understood?”

  Deep within, some tiny part of Rafe’s soul, the part that could still think and feel for itself, cried out in rage, trying to get the rest of his body and brain to wake up. But it wasn’t enough. He still stood there, half in a stupor, and quietly listened to Simon’s calm, insinuating voice before replying, “Yes.”

 
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