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Hidden gifts, p.21

Hidden Gifts, page 21

 

Hidden Gifts
 


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  “All right, then. You can let yourself out, Rafe.”

  He didn’t respond, only turned on his heel and let himself out the door, then walked slowly down the stairs. Still in that same haze, he went to his Jeep and climbed in. The vehicle might as well have been self-driving for as little thought as he put into the journey home. However, he reached the house safely, parked the Wrangler in the garage, and went inside.

  And when he awoke the next morning, he remembered nothing after going to see his parents.

  16

  Betrayals

  Miranda

  I honestly hadn’t been able to figure out what could possibly fill the entire day up to the wedding ceremony, but Cat and Genoveva soon put that question to rest. First, of course, was breakfast at the house, not just with Cat and her mother, but my bridesmaids as well, all six of them. One was Ylena, and another Susanna, and I thought there was a Maria, but after that I lost track. They were all Castillos, of course, cousins of varying degrees, and they seemed friendly and chatty enough. Which was just as well, because that way I could listen to them talk and not have to contribute too much to the conversation. I was more nervous than I’d thought I would be, the butterflies in my stomach interfering with the French toast and bacon I was trying to consume.

  Why I was so nervous, I really didn’t know. All right, I was about to get married to someone I’d known for a grand total of two days, but I wasn’t sure if that was the whole problem. Rafe wasn’t a monster, but a handsome, smart guy. We’d already proven that a certain sexual chemistry existed between us. I wouldn’t have to pretend I was attracted to him, and although I didn’t have much experience when it came to kissing or other forms of intimacy, I could tell from the way I reacted to his embraces that our marriage wouldn’t be a cold one…far from it.

  No, I was much more worried that my magic might choose an extremely inopportune time to make itself known. So far, the morning had been uneventful, but I still had most of the day to get through, not to mention the ceremony itself. Although nothing had happened to upset me like Cat’s revelations about Rafe’s former girlfriends, it was still exhausting to realize that after breakfast, we’d all go to the nail salon together, and after that to the hairstylist — apparently we were shutting down a whole salon for those appointments — and then finally to the makeup artist’s studio. Considering how big the wedding party was, I wondered whether anyone else in Santa Fe would be able to squeeze in to get their own hair and nails done.

  As we were sitting in the pedicure chairs at the nail salon, Cat leaned over to me and whispered, “Are you doing okay?”

  “I suppose so,” I murmured. Luckily, the other girls were involved in their own conversations and didn’t seem to be paying any particular attention to us. Genoveva must have made her own separate arrangements for hair and nails and makeup, because she’d disappeared after breakfast, saying that she needed to be in touch with the florist. I couldn’t help but be relieved, since I knew the day would be a lot more survivable without her around. “This all doesn’t feel real, I guess.”

  Cat gave a sympathetic nod. “I can understand that, with everything happening so quickly.”

  “And also — ” I began, then stopped. It was so hard to know what might be safe to talk about. This business with my emergent powers was one thing, but something else bothered me even more. “I hate that I have to do this without my family. I mean, I know that you’re my family now, too, but it’s not quite the same thing.”

  “I know. And believe me, Rafe and I had so many arguments with our mother about it, but she just wouldn’t budge. I told her it was cruel to deprive you of your family. But….” The words trailed off, and Cat shook her head.

  Any chance of her saying more on the subject was gone after that, because our manicurists showed up and started working on our feet and nails. I supposed we could have continued to talk about our families and simply left out any mention of their witchy powers, but even leaving aside that important component, the topic felt way too personal. Instead, we sat there quietly — or rather, I was quiet as Cat talked about the menu for that night’s dinner, and the band her father had hired. It did sound as if he’d planned a good party for Rafe and me — and our three hundred guests — and so I tried to smile and be grateful.

  A pair of limousines had brought us here after breakfast, and they came and whisked us away to the hair salon at the appointed hour. Even then Cat and I didn’t have a chance to talk, since we shared the back of the limo with Susanna and Maria, both of whom kept trying to convince her that they shouldn’t have to wear updos, and that everyone would look better with their hair down.

  “My mother wants you to wear your hair up,” she said flatly, and that seemed to be the end of the discussion. Even the ebullient Castillo cousins apparently didn’t want to face off against their formidable prima.

  At the hair salon, things got a little more relaxed, since the salon owner brought out bottles of sparkling wine from Gruet, a New Mexico winery that specialized in the bubbly stuff. Even I could feel some of the tension leave my neck and shoulders as I sipped at my brut rosé and listened to the stylist, Alberto, wax rhapsodic about my hair.

  “So long and thick!” he exclaimed, running a brush through the waist-length locks and letting them fall back down over my shoulders. “Long, loose waves, I think, with the front pinned back.”

  “Oh, so she gets to wear her hair down?” complained Susana from two chairs over.

  “Yes, because she is the bride,” Cat said. “Take a pill.”

  “I don’t know about a pill,” Susana returned, “but I’ll definitely have more champagne.”

  She grinned while one of the salon assistants poured her a fresh glass. I watched as she drank, wondering how much of the bubbly stuff she’d consumed already. The last thing I needed was a bunch of tipsy bridesmaids. Then again, if she tripped on her gown or otherwise made a fool of herself somehow, it was Genoveva she’d have to answer to, not me. I didn’t need this day to be perfect; I just needed to survive it somehow.

  Then it was off to get shampooed and blow-dried, and to sit there as Alberto wound my hair around an impossibly thick curling iron and let the resulting long, loose curls flow down over my shoulders. Good thing Cat had warned me about wearing a button-up shirt; I could only imagine the damage that might result if I had to pull a top up over my head to change into my wedding dress later that afternoon.

  The stylist next to me was curling Cat’s hair as well, but more tightly than mine, the resulting spirals then pinned up in a complicated arrangement at the back of her head. Since she usually wore it down long and straight, the result made her look quite different, showed off her high cheekbones and almond-shaped dark eyes. Something about her appearance made me think of Rafe, the resemblance between the two of them stronger now, although his eyes were lighter than hers, a warm amber-brown that I’d never seen before I met him.

  I wondered what he was doing while I was getting primped within an inch of my life. Drinking with his groomsmen? Maybe, although I doubted he would risk his mother’s wrath by getting wasted right before the ceremony. Right then, I hated the stupid tradition that kept the bride and groom apart the day of the wedding. I wanted him there with me, needed the reassurance of his presence. Yes, we’d patched everything up the night before, but I still would have felt better if I could have seen him smile at me, or give a little eye roll at all these elaborate preparations.

  After we were done at the hair salon, Susanna announced that she wanted to ride in the limo with the other girls, and took Maria with her. This arrangement suited me just fine, since it gave me a chance to talk to Cat alone — although not for too long, since the makeup artist’s studio was only about five minutes away from the salon.

  She seemed to understand the limited space of time in which we had to talk, because she said right away, “This thing with your family — I kept arguing with my mother about it — you know, kept hoping she would see reason. But she w
as like a goddamn mule.” Her lips pressed together, and she paused to stare out the tinted window, to look at the people who were looking at us, trying to see who might be inside the limo. This was probably the closest I would ever get to feeling like a movie star, and it did make me feel quite grand, despite my underlying worries. Cat added, “I think it has something to do with her mother. My grandmother, you know.”

  I wasn’t sure if I did know. I tilted my head at her, urging her to go on.

  “Well, she didn’t talk about it much, but I always got the impression that she was angry at your parents for taking her mother away, for the way she’d died on their watch, so to speak. Lord only knows that my grandmother Isabel wouldn’t have done anything she didn’t want to, but I think my mother still resented losing her years before she should have. And so one way she could get back at your parents was to deprive them of seeing you get married.”

  “That’s…awfully petty,” I responded, trying to wrap my mind around the concept of someone who could harbor a grudge that deep across more than two decades. When they’d gone to her for assistance, my parents couldn’t have had any idea that, by helping them, Isabel would lose her life. It had been a great tragedy, according to them, and they’d paid their proper respects. Or at least, they’d tried to; even back then, Genoveva hadn’t wanted much to do with them.

  “That’s my mother,” Cat said, and sighed. She reached up with one hand as though she wanted to push it through her hair, then stopped when she realized that doing so would only destroy the careful updo the stylist had just created. “She and Rafe fought a lot more than she and I did, but she’s always been the type of person who remembers every single thing you’ve done wrong…and won’t let you forget it, either.”

  “I’m sorry,” I said. All I could do was think of my own free-spirited, laughing mother, who was quick to forgive with a “that’s all right, honey,” and who had never given me a worse punishment than being confined to my room for an afternoon. Having someone like Genoveva for a mother must have been exhausting.

  Cat shrugged. “I’m kind of over it. But I still hate that she wouldn’t let you have at least your parents here, even if she wouldn’t allow your whole family to come.”

  I hated it, too. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Except…. “They can’t be here,” I said slowly. “But maybe you can get a couple of pictures of me after I’m in my gown, and we can send them when your mother is looking somewhere else. At least they’d get to see what I looked like on my wedding day.”

  “Oh, that’s a great idea!” Cat exclaimed. “I should have thought of it myself. What’s their number?”

  I gave it to her, and she entered the information in her phone.

  “Great,” she said. “I’ll try to get a bunch. I know my mother planned to send them a disc of images from the professional photographer, but in a way this is better, because they’ll feel like they got to see a little of what was going on during the preparations and not the ceremony itself.”

  Not quite trusting myself to speak, I nodded. If I thought too much about my parents, about how much I missed them, I knew I’d start to tear up. At least my makeup hadn’t been done yet, but I also didn’t want to have reddened eyes and a puffy nose when we appeared at our next destination.

  They had a team waiting for us there, too, three makeup artists and a couple of assistants who stood by like nurses in an operating room, ready to hand over the correct brush or eyeshadow palette at a moment’s notice. One of the makeup artists, a severe-looking woman named Aline, worked on me exclusively, while the other two split their time amongst the rest of the bridal party.

  No exclamations about the length of my lashes or the shape of my mouth here, that was for sure. Aline worked calmly and efficiently, without speaking at all. I sat as still as I could, my gaze fixed on the street outside the plate-glass windows that fronted the salon. There wasn’t as much foot traffic here, since we were on the outskirts of downtown, blocks away from the Plaza. Cars drifted by, moving slowly, the people inside hidden by tinted windows.

  Right then, I wished Aline was a chatterbox, because that way I could have focused on what she was saying instead of being left to my own thoughts. As the minutes and hours ticked inexorably away, dragging me toward my future, I could feel tension knotting within me, all my worries coming to the fore. It was one thing to reassure myself that everything would be fine, that Rafe and I had come to an understanding and everything after today would be sparkles and unicorns, but I didn’t know that for sure. He had his own demons to battle, and while I thought I understood some of the animosity he displayed toward his mother, it still made me uncomfortable. The last thing I wanted was to get caught between them somehow.

  And sooner or later we would have to figure out what in the world was going on with my powers, if you could even call them that. If I were lucky, there might be someone here in the Castillo clan who could shed some light on my situation, or possibly there were some family archives which would reveal that such things weren’t entirely outside the pale. After all, the family was a very old one, much older than my own. The McAllisters had always been kind of haphazard about their record-keeping, and the Wilcoxes weren’t much better. The Castillos could be sitting on a treasure trove of magical knowledge.

  But at last Aline was done, and a stranger stared back at me from the mirror. Or rather, if I looked hard enough, I could see something of myself in that glamorous woman with the enormous green eyes and the glossy wine-colored lips, but it took an effort. It wasn’t even that the makeup was terribly obvious, only that Aline had known how to use the tools and tricks of her trade to bring out contours in my face I hadn’t known existed.

  “Wow,” Cat said, walking over to the chair where I sat. She, too, looked extremely chic, with her big dark eyes now even bigger, thanks to some meticulously applied false eyelashes and smoky liner. “You are stunning.”

  “Thanks,” I replied, since I wasn’t sure how else I should respond. No one had ever called me stunning before. Oh, sure, people had commented on what a beautiful family my parents had, and I’d been told I was a pretty girl…but it was a big leap from “pretty” to “stunning.” “I hope Rafe will think so.”

  “If he doesn’t, he’s either blind or an idiot,” she said. “But it’s almost three o’clock now, so we need to get going. Everyone else is done.”

  I thanked Aline and let Cat lead me back out to the limousine. It appeared that Genoveva must have handled all the financial arrangements for these appointments up front, because money was never mentioned. Just as well; I wasn’t sure I wanted to stop and add up what all the nails and hair and makeup for seven of us must have cost, especially with the sort of star treatment we’d received.

  As the limo drew closer to the cathedral, I could feel my heart rate accelerate, and I made myself breathe deeply to offset those fluttery heartbeats as best I could. I clutched the armrest and pretended to listen as Cat talked about all the Castillos who’d been married in Loretto Chapel, including her two older sisters, but my thoughts were elsewhere, wondering what Rafe was up to, whether he was already somewhere within the huge gray stone building. No, surely it wouldn’t take him as long to get dressed as I would. He was probably at home, maybe finishing his packing for our trip to Taos. I’d already packed my own bags, and Cat had dropped them off for me at his place earlier that day. I’d fed Loki before I left to have my own breakfast, and I’d told Cat to look after him — if she could find him, that is. As soon as I’d opened the door to head out for breakfast, the cat bolted before I could even blink. Well, he’d apparently fended for himself before I showed up, so I had to hope he’d be able to do the same if he decided to stay away permanently.

  At any rate, everything had been set up so Rafe and I could make a quick getaway, and I was fine with that. I thought that once we were away from Santa Fe and alone together, we’d have a better chance to get to know each other. We could just be Miranda and Rafe, rathe
r than a McAllister and a Castillo. Or, I supposed, a Wilcox and a Castillo, although I’d gotten the impression from Genoveva that she seemed to give my McAllister blood more weight, as if she didn’t want to acknowledge that a man could be the head of a clan the way my father was. Anyway, I hoped our time in Taos would be a way to really seal our relationship, to prove that we should be together, even though we’d had no control over the situation that had brought us together.

  Cat and the rest of my bridesmaids hurried me up into a side entrance. I was glad they knew where they were going, because the cathedral seemed vast to me, and otherwise I would have had no idea how to find the dressing rooms. There were several, as it turned out, two for my bridesmaids and one for me. Genoveva waited there, coldly stylish in a gray silk shantung suit, her hair up in a twist, antique white gold and sapphire drops hanging from her ears.

  “Come along,” she said. “No time to waste.”

  I wanted to raise an eyebrow at that comment, since we still had more than two hours to go until the ceremony. However, I didn’t quite have the courage to confront her over her false urgency, and so I only nodded and headed for the antique screen that had been set up to one side of the room. Behind that screen was a rolling wardrobe rack where my wedding gown hung, still swathed in the protective bag from the dress shop. Below it were the matching shoes, and on a chair was a small bag with the necessary undergarments, right down to the pale blue garter required to fulfill the requirements of the old rhyme — “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”

  Well, something new was my dress, but I didn’t know about “old” or “borrowed.” However, Genoveva had thought of that as well, because after I lifted the lacy bustier and lace-topped stockings out of the bag, I found a small white box underneath. Inside the box was a plain card that said For Miranda, and within was a beautiful antique set of jewelry, white gold accented with diamonds and small rosy pearls. They matched my dress perfectly, and again I wondered if Genoveva had decided on the gown in advance and had purposely guided me to choose it.

 
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