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Haunted hearts, p.21

Haunted Hearts, page 21


Haunted Hearts

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  No question of taking Ava’s SUV; he searched for a shuttle service, found one with availability, and requested a pickup in fifteen minutes. And no worry about a passport, since he already had one. True, it was a fake he’d purchased in San Salvador one time, figuring that it couldn’t hurt to have it handy, but it was a very good fake, one that would be difficult to spot. Besides, the officials here in the United States probably didn’t look as closely at foreign nationals leaving the country as they did those entering the U.S., and once he was in El Salvador, he could always use a little cash to smooth the way if any of the customs agents there decided to cause a problem.

  Duffle slung over one shoulder, he descended the stairs, only to see Victoria standing in the hallway, hands on her hips in the pose he’d already come to dislike.

  “Going somewhere?” she asked, gaze fixed on the bag hanging over his left arm.

  “Yes, I am,” he replied, deciding there was no point in hiding the truth from her. “I’ve decided to go back to El Salvador.”

  That confession seemed to surprise her, because her eyes widened and she became slightly more transparent for a moment before growing more opaque once again. “Whatever for? Does Elena know?”

  “Because El Salvador is my home,” he said, answering her first question and ignoring the second one. All right, at the moment, Pico Negro didn’t feel much like home, felt like a place in a story he’d once read rather than anything real, but he supposed he’d get past that strange disconnect at some point. “I was only visiting here. As for Elena…she’s gone. She doesn’t need to know.”

  Victoria didn’t reply at first, only continued to stare at him with a vaguely disapproving expression on her delicate features, as if she’d smelled something bad. “What about my house?”

  Even though he was leaving, her habit of calling it “my house” when she hadn’t been alive to enjoy it for more than a hundred years still managed to irk him. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I suppose Ava will get someone else in the clan to move in, or maybe she’ll sell it. Either way, it’s not my problem.”

  “And you don’t care that it’s my problem.”

  He almost snarled that no, he didn’t care, but suddenly, responding in such a way felt far too cruel. “It’s not that I don’t care,” he told her. “It’s just that I can’t do anything about it.”

  “You could stay,” she said, her tone now pleading.

  Was she going to miss him? No, that was ridiculous. She just didn’t want to be left alone with no one to haunt. Unfortunately, he already had far too many ghosts of his own making to deal with.

  “I’m sorry,” he said simply, and passed through her so he could let himself out the front door to wait for his airport shuttle.

  Was the sudden chill he felt at that contact simply from brushing up against the spirit, or a sense of foreboding at turning his back on the one place in the world where he’d actually been happy, if only for a few days?

  The shuttle was already at the curb, and he didn’t have time to worry about the odd sensation that had momentarily assailed him. He hurried over to the self-driving van and got in, glad he wouldn’t have the chance to stop and answer that question.

  Some things were better not to think about.

  She’d never walked this way before, but the map on Elena’s phone showed her that it was less than a mile from the prima’s enormous hacienda-style home to the Victorian house on Hillside Avenue. That was just enough time for her to try to corral her racing thoughts, to do her best to think of what she could say to Alessandro.

  Better to prepare herself for his anger. She still thought she was in the right, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t apologize for what had happened after she blew up at him. It probably had been childish for her to not call or even text. Adults were supposed to talk things out, weren’t they?

  Too bad she had so little experience at being an adult.

  It was time to start acting like one, though. She knew she’d scored a victory back at Miranda’s house, but it was a hollow one at best. Maybe someday she’d be able to forgive her father — with some clarity, she realized he’d always been weak and allowed himself to be dominated by his mother — and yet Elena doubted she’d ever be able to forgive her grandmother, since her sins felt far more personal. There probably weren’t any cozy family Christmases in their future, that was for sure.

  Was that why she hurried toward Alessandro now? Was she so worried about being utterly alone that she was willing to forgive him when she couldn’t forgive her own family?

  No. The answer bubbled up from somewhere deep within her, speaking in a voice that didn’t sound like her own but which still seemed to utter its own unquestionable truth. She was going to Alessandro because she knew she loved him and didn’t want to imagine a future without him. It had nothing to do with being alone, and everything to do with being together, with being with a person who seemed like your missing half, something you didn’t even realize was absent until it appeared in your life out of the blue.

  The house seemed to loom up suddenly on her left, perched on the slight rise where it was located, and Elena paused for a moment. A cloud passed across the lowering sun and she shivered, although she couldn’t really say why, as the air was still warm despite the temporary shadow that had just crossed over her.

  A bad omen?

  No, she was just being superstitious.

  She went up the front walk and touched her hand to the latch. It lifted beneath her fingers, and she went ahead and let herself in. Everything looked very shiny and neat; there were even fresh flowers sitting on the mantel when she peeked into the living room. Had Alessandro gone on some sort of cleaning spree to distract himself from her absence? No, there was probably a better explanation as to why the house appeared so spotless, although right then, she couldn’t think what that explanation might be.

  “Alessandro?” she called out.

  The syllables of his name seemed to echo in the space, and she walked toward the back of the house as she began to frown. She supposed he simply could have gone out, whether to the grocery store or even a movie, if he needed to do something to pass the time.

  “He’s gone,” came Victoria’s voice from behind her, and Elena whirled to see the ghost standing in the middle of the hallway.

  “What do you mean, he’s gone?” she demanded, even as her stomach knotted with sudden worry.

  “He had a bag with him. He said he was leaving. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised — he’s been very sad the past few days. Or at least,” Victoria added, now with a faint note of disapproval in her tone, “he was sad when he wasn’t drinking.”

  Drinking. Had her abrupt departure led him to drink? Elena hated to think she might have been the cause of anything like that. “Did he say where he was going?”

  “He said he was going back to El Salvador.”

  No. That couldn’t be true. Victoria must have misheard him. It had only been a few days…was he really going to give up that easily?

  Yes, Elena thought then. Because you gave him no reason to think anything was going to change. What would be the point in staying here any longer than he already had?

  “When?” she asked, her tone urgent.

  “I don’t know,” Victoria replied, and this time she looked almost regretful. “Time doesn’t have the same meaning for me as it does for you people. Earlier today, though. I know that much.”

  Earlier today. Which meant he could have left just fifteen minutes before, or sometime that morning. If he’d departed for the airport in the morning, then she was far, far too late. But if she’d only missed him by a half hour or so, maybe she still had a chance.

  He’d be flying out from Albuquerque. Santa Fe had its own airport, but it wasn’t very big, not the sort of place where you could catch a flight to someplace like El Salvador, especially if he’d planned this trip at the last minute. Somehow, she had a feeling that was exactly what had happened, that he’d made a snap decis
ion and left before he had a chance to second-guess himself.

  She looked around wildly, wondering what to do next. Call a shuttle, she supposed, although she chafed at the delay that would cause. Or possibly call Miranda and ask if she would drive her to the airport, but such a request seemed like a huge imposition, especially considering the prima had been left to manage Elena’s family after Elena walked out on that lovely little meeting and left her father and grandmother behind. Most likely, Miranda had sent them away as soon as she could, although Elena couldn’t know that for sure.

  For just a second or two, she considered summoning one of her demons to her — not Belshegar, because he didn’t have the power to transport a human from place to place — and then realized that appearing at the Albuquerque airport in the company of a forbidding-looking extra-dimensional entity would be exactly the wrong thing to do if she wanted to avoid attracting attention. Her demons could be useful, but not with anything that involved a public place.

  Then her frenzied gaze fell on an innocuous object that sat on the hall table — the little black key fob for Ava’s CR-V. Alessandro had probably left it there as he finished locking up the house, figuring it would be easy enough to find for whomever came along to take care of the place.

  You don’t even have a driver’s license, Elena scolded herself. This isn’t like running over to the store to grab a few things — this is going all the way to Albuquerque.

  How hard could it be, though? She wouldn’t have to actually drive, only tell the car to take her to the airport and let it handle the rest. All right, the law required people to have a license in case anything went wrong with a vehicle’s navigation system, but really, how often did those sorts of malfunctions actually occur? She understood the theory of driving, since she’d watched a bunch of online tutorials back when she turned sixteen, hoping against hope that her family would relent and allow her to get a license after all.

  No license had been forthcoming, however…just that stupid state-issued I.D. card. And now Elena knew exactly why they’d allowed her one of those.

  She scooped up the key fob. “Thanks, Victoria.”

  The ghost looked vaguely alarmed. “I thought I heard you tell Alessandro that you didn’t know how to drive.”

  “I don’t,” Elena said cheerfully. “But I’m going to Albuquerque anyway. Wish me luck!”

  She hurried out the back door before Victoria even had a chance to reply. It didn’t matter, though. She didn’t need a ghost to wish her luck.

  No, she was going to make her own luck.

  Adjusting the seat in the CR-V took up a precious minute, but once that was done, all she had to do was touch her finger to the ignition button and say, “Albuquerque Sunport.”


  And then they were backing out of the garage, with Elena remembering just in time to push the button for the remote again so the garage door would shut behind her. It felt strange to sit in the driver’s seat of the little SUV, and stranger still to watch the minute movements of the steering wheel as the car’s A.I. guided her out of the neighborhood where the house was located, around the outskirts of downtown, and then along Old Santa Fe Trail — which then turned into Old Pecos Trail — to pick up Interstate 25 heading south.

  Once she was on the freeway, she felt a little better, simply because she didn’t have to worry as much about merging traffic or making turns. The CR-V had handled everything with aplomb, and yet she couldn’t help wondering if she would be the one-in-a-million case where the nav failed and she had to take over.

  But as the miles passed and nothing happened except the car’s A.I. engaging the brakes when some jerk in an oversized truck cut in front of her, Elena relaxed, realizing the drive to Albuquerque itself wasn’t what she had to worry about. No, she had to think about how Alessandro would react when he saw her, what she could say to convince him that she’d messed up as well, that she wanted him to stay.

  And if he wasn’t there at all? If his flight had already left?

  She really didn’t want to think about that.

  However, she told herself she could still salvage the situation. She didn’t have a passport, but surely someone in the Castillo clan could fast-track one. Or, better yet, she could get in contact with Ava and ask if Gabriel could come get her and bring her to Pico Negro. If Alessandro thought he could get away with disappearing into the rainforests of El Salvador, he needed to think again.

  The late afternoon sun darkened, and she saw that the cloud cover was thickening, looking as though an early monsoon storm might be boiling up from the south. Usually they didn’t start to appear until the end of June or the beginning of July, but, as with so many other things in life, those storms weren’t always all that predictable.

  She pulled into the parking garage at the airport, took a ticket from the machine at the entrance, and told the nav to park in the closest available spot. Since she had absolutely no idea which flight Alessandro was taking, about all she could do was get into the terminal as quickly as possible and then see what she needed to do to track him down. At least she could ignore the airlines that didn’t fly internationally, although trying to narrow things down from there seemed like an impossible task.

  You can’t give up, she told herself as she paused next to one of the electronic kiosks that announced the arriving and departing flights. Just think.

  Okay. She got out her phone and navigated to a travel site, then looked for any flights that were departing Albuquerque’s Sunport after 6 p.m. and which had San Salvador as their final destination. There were two — one on United, which would stop in Dallas first before heading south, and another on Delta that had Phoenix as its first stop.

  But which one? The terminals were almost at opposite ends of the airport. If she chose the wrong flight, she’d be wasting valuable time.

  There was no way to know for sure. She closed her eyes and prayed to a God she wasn’t sure was listening, prayed for some kind of a sign.

  A man’s voice, loud, obviously talking on his cell phone as he walked by her. “Yes, I’ll be in Phoenix in about an hour. Don’t tell me it can’t wait that long. I — ”

  Elena didn’t hear the rest of his sentence, but it hardly mattered. She wasn’t sure whether the man’s phone conversation had been a sign from God, but she figured she’d cross her fingers and hope for the best.

  She took the escalator to the second level and then followed the signs guiding her to the Delta terminal. The whole time, her heart was pounding, but she ignored its erratic thumps. The important thing was that she was letting her instincts guide her, wasn’t allowing her brain to tell her this was crazy. And if this trip to Albuquerque turned out to be a wild goose chase after all, she wouldn’t give up. Alessandro was worth fighting for. He might not believe such a thing about himself, but she knew it to be true, knew it with such bone-deep conviction that she couldn’t possibly be wrong.

  The 6:55 flight to Phoenix must have been close to full, because the terminal was packed. And the only way to get a good look was to stop at the TSA checkpoint, have her bag X-rayed, take off her shoes and allow herself to be checked with one of those wand things that she’d only ever seen on TV or in movies. The whole time, she could feel herself growing more anxious as the precious seconds ticked away. She wasn’t carrying a bomb — they just needed to let her through, dammit.

  As she was slipping her shoes back on, a voice came through the loudspeakers, announcing that Flight 587 to Phoenix was now boarding.

  No. Oh, no.

  She pushed herself into the crowd, looking this way and that for Alessandro’s tall form, the distinctive tattoos on his arms, his shining near-black hair. But although she saw a couple of tall, dark-haired men, neither of them were the person she sought.

  What if he’d already boarded the plane? What if she’d gotten this close, only to miss him after all?


  Startled, she turned toward that voice, the one she’d know anywh
ere, husky and with that sexy Salvadoran accent. He stood near a row of chairs, a duffle bag slung over his shoulder and an expression of utter shock on his face.

  “What are you doing here?” he asked.

  “I came to stop you,” she gasped, panting a little from her hurried progress through the airport. “Alessandro, you can’t go.”

  His brows drew together. “Why not?”

  She glanced around. This was probably one of the last places where she would have wanted to make such a declaration, but the people who surrounded them were all intent on gathering their things and boarding the plane. Most likely, they wouldn’t even hear the words she was about to utter…and she had a feeling if she didn’t say them now, Alessandro would get on that plane and fly right out of her life.

  “Because I love you,” she said desperately. “I love you, and I want you to stay here in Santa Fe with me.”

  People crowded on every side, making their way to the gate, and yet in that moment, Elena thought she and Alessandro might have been the only two people in the world. He stared at her, eyes locked on her face as though he desperately needed to read the truth there. A step forward, and another, and then he reached out and took her hand, holding on to her so the masses of humanity around them wouldn’t sweep her away. Or at least, that was what his fingers clutching hers felt like, a lifeline she hadn’t even realized she needed until he touched her.

  “Why now?” he asked. “You didn’t talk to me for two days and — ”

  “Because I knew I was about to lose you,” she told him. “Victoria told me you were going back to El Salvador, and I knew I had only this one chance. Alessandro, I was angry and didn’t know what to do, and then I found out about my father and my grandmother stealing from me, and I — ”

  His voice overrode hers, angry, although Elena knew that anger wasn’t directed at her. “They what?”

  “I was supposed to be getting stipend payments from the clan for the past four years, but they’ve been taking them,” she told him. “But that doesn’t matter now.”

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