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Haunted hearts, p.22

Haunted Hearts, page 22

 

Haunted Hearts
 


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  “I’d say it matters,” he retorted, dark eyes smoldering.

  She had to believe he wouldn’t be acting so protective of her if he didn’t still care. Smiling up at him, she said, “I mean that it’s been taken care of. Miranda knows all about it and is getting the money back for me. I only mentioned it because that’s part of the reason why I didn’t talk to you. Oh, I was still mad, but….” She let the words trail off before adding, “Can we get out of here? This isn’t the best place to have a private conversation.”

  His gaze moved toward the gate. The crowds were thinning out now, and in a few more minutes, the last of the passengers would have boarded.

  Surely he couldn’t still be thinking of going, could he? Not after what she’d just told him.

  Then again, he hadn’t said he loved her, hadn’t reacted to her confession with much beyond his initial shocked expression.

  She stared up at him and whispered, “Please stay, Alessandro.”

  He pulled her against him then, not kissing her, only holding her close, arms strong and somehow fierce, as if he knew that he couldn’t kiss her quite yet, had to reassure himself that she was real, she was here, and that she wasn’t going anywhere.

  “Okay,” he said at last. “I’ll stay and talk.” A pause as he lifted his head and looked past where they stood to the airport itself, to the lowering sky overhead. “How did you get here, anyway?”

  “I drove,” she said. “That is, the car drove me.”

  “I didn’t think you were supposed to do that.”

  “I’m not,” she replied, smiling now that he’d told her he would stay, now that she knew he wasn’t going to get on the plane. “But I was desperate.”

  His fingers tightened on hers. “Something could have happened.”

  “But it didn’t.”

  A shake of the head, and then he bent and placed a very gentle kiss on her cheek. “All right. But I’ll get behind the wheel for the drive back.”

  17

  Was this real? Was he really headed back to Santa Fe, Elena in the passenger seat next to him and Albuquerque — and the flight he was supposed to take — falling farther and farther away in the rearview mirror?

  Apparently, it was. Alessandro glanced over at her, and she smiled back…although he noted that her smile seemed a bit shaky, as though she wasn’t entirely sure of him, despite the way he’d come with her and abandoned his plans to return to El Salvador.

  Then he realized he’d never said those words to her. She’d blurted them out in the terminal, and he’d just stood there like an idiot, staring at her. True, simply seeing her again had been enough of a shock without any declarations of love, but he could see why she still might not feel certain of him.

  “I love you, Elena,” he said. “I should have told you earlier.”

  Pink tinged her cheeks, and she reached over and laid her hand on his. “I’m just glad you said it now.”

  Their fingers twined together. He was glad of the self-driving car, glad he could hold on to her like this even as the distance to Santa Fe shrank with every second. “A week ago, I’m not sure I would have.”

  Her mouth quirked a little. “Well, a week ago, we’d barely met. It probably would have been a little impulsive.”

  “That’s not what I meant,” he said, although he could feel his own lips lifting in response. “I mean that a week ago, I was fairly certain I was incapable of loving anyone.”

  “I find that hard to believe,” she protested. “What about your family?”

  “All right,” he conceded, since she had a point. “Yes, of course, I love my mother and my sister. I’m talking about loving someone in a romantic way.”

  “I think that loving them is part of why you were able to fall in love with me,” Elena said. “I mean, you’re not some sociopath or something. You’re just someone who’s had a difficult time because of your talent. But circumstances conspiring against you is not the same sort of thing as not being capable of loving someone.”

  “You are a kind person, Elena Salazar,” he told her, and she blinked at him in surprise.

  “I don’t know about that,” she said slowly. “I mean, only a couple of hours ago, I was thinking about how I’d be happy if I never had to see my father or grandmother again. Would a kind person think something like that?”

  “They wronged you. I think it’s only natural that you would want them out of your life. Possibly in time you will come to forgive them, but I don’t find anything strange about wanting to avoid them when the wound is so fresh.”

  For a moment, Elena didn’t speak, only seemed to ponder what he’d just said. Then she shrugged slightly. “Maybe. I’m not sure I want to think about forgiveness yet.”

  “You don’t have to. All you have to do is move on.”

  “With you?” she asked. Her voice sounded very small.

  He wondered if she truly understood what she was asking of him. For more than a decade, he’d put aside all thoughts of love, any thought of a future with a woman at his side, someone who knew the worst about him and simply didn’t care. Or perhaps it wasn’t so much a question of not caring, but rather understanding that his past didn’t define him, his magic didn’t define him. They were parts of him, true, but not the whole.

  His fingers tightened on hers. “Yes, with you, Elena. I have no idea what I will do here in Santa Fe, or what my life here will be. But as long as you’re at my side, I know I’ll be able to figure it out.”

  She grinned. “Well, considering that I’m about to get a huge lump sum deposited in my savings account in the very near future, we probably won’t have to worry about money for a while.”

  Probably not. And he would have his own funds as well, once he figured out how to get them here. The Escobar clan did not handle money quite the same way that the Castillos did; their reserves all resided in a central account, one they could draw on for necessities as required. Of course, Vicénte, the former primus, had tended to sit rather tightly on those purse strings, but Alessandro doubted Gabriel would be so parsimonious. No, he would probably be quite happy to send a large amount to whichever account Alessandro specified, if it meant that Pico Negro would not have to worry about their troublesome null ever again.

  However, he hadn’t meant mere cash when he’d told Elena he didn’t know what his life here would be like. Back in El Salvador, he had kept busy enough, but what was he supposed to do in Santa Fe?

  “You know,” Elena said in musing tones, “you really should think about opening a restaurant. You’re an amazing cook.”

  He wanted to laugh, but she looked so earnest, he didn’t quite dare. “I’m not sure being a good cook is enough of a qualification.”

  “Well, I think it is. If you need to get certified or something, I’m pretty sure there are cooking schools in Santa Fe.” She squeezed his fingers and then let go of them at last. “Anyway, it’s nothing we have to decide right now. It’s just something to think about.”

  “And I will.”

  That wasn’t an empty promise. Already he was wondering if there truly were places in Santa Fe where he could train as a chef. That would be something, to have a restaurant of his own. Nothing too big or too fancy, just a small space he could make his own, where he could create the dishes he loved and where others could come to enjoy them. Someplace warm and welcoming, with Elena’s paintings on the walls….

  They were coming up on the exit they needed to take to get back to the house. Somehow, this drive felt much shorter than the one that had brought him down to Albuquerque only a few hours earlier, but he supposed it was because during the earlier drive he had been mourning what he was leaving behind, and now he was full of hope, looking ahead to a future he couldn’t have imagined even a scant hour before.

  “It’s not really home, though,” he murmured as they turned down the alley that backed up to the house and made their way to the garage.

  Elena glanced over at him and gave a small sideways tilt of her head. “Ma
ybe not forever,” she allowed. “But it is for now, and that’s the important thing. We can figure out everything else later.”

  True. It wasn’t as if Ava needed the house…and it wasn’t as though she and Gabriel were even expecting him in Pico Negro. She’d seen his doubts and worries, of course, and had told him he could come home whenever he liked, but he hadn’t told her of his precipitous plans to return to El Salvador. For all Ava knew, he intended to stay in Santa Fe for some time longer.

  “You’re right, of course,” he said, and Elena shot him a relieved smile.

  He got his duffle bag out of the cargo area in the back of the CR-V, and they both made their way through the yard to the back door. The day had been growing dark as they traveled home, and he sent a wary eye at the cloudy skies overhead, at the sudden gust of wind that rustled the leaves of the trees.

  “Monsoons,” Elena said briefly. “We always get them in the summer here, although this is a little early. I suppose we should just be glad we beat the storm home. They can get nasty.”

  “If it does get bad, we’ll be safely inside,” he said, touching his fingers to the latch. It lifted, and they went inside. Even though it was only late afternoon, just a little past five o’clock, the kitchen was quite dark.

  “So you found him,” came Victoria’s voice, and he startled. It was so dim in there, he hadn’t even seen the ghost standing over by the doorway.

  “I did,” Elena said. She reached for the light switch and flicked it upward, turning on the wrought-iron fixture overhead. “Thanks for the intel.”

  “‘Intel’?” Victoria echoed, obviously not understanding the idiom.

  “Information,” Alessandro told her. “And I thank you as well. If Elena hadn’t caught up with me — ”

  “Then I would have chased you all the way down to El Salvador if necessary,” she broke in, then came over and took him by the arm. “Do you really think I would have given you up that easily?”

  No, he supposed not. If she was determined enough to follow him to Albuquerque despite her lack of a driver’s license — despite not even knowing how to drive — then he guessed she would have done whatever was necessary to track him down.

  He shook his head, and she grinned. Light flared, and only a few seconds later, thunder roared, followed by a heavy drumming on the roof. “It seems you were right about us barely beating the storm.”

  “But we did, which is the important thing. Now we can enjoy it — I love monsoon storms.”

  No sooner had she spoken than the fixture overhead flickered and then went dark.

  “Does this happen often?” Alessandro asked. Power outages during storms weren’t that uncommon down in El Salvador, but he would have thought the grid in Santa Fe would be more stable.

  “It happened all the time in Las Vegas,” Elena said cheerfully. “This is my first storm in Santa Fe, so I have no idea.” She paused and looked over at the ghost, who still stood by the doorway. “Victoria, do you know where Ava kept her candles?”

  “There are candles all over the house,” Victoria replied. “But I believe there is one of those automatic lighter devices in one of the kitchen drawers.”

  Alessandro and Elena began searching for the object in question. Sure enough, there was a long-necked butane lighter in the “junk” drawer beneath the ancient wall-mounted phone, and Elena pulled it out in triumph.

  “Time for some mood lighting.”

  She headed down the hallway, and he followed her. Victoria moved out of the way, watching them almost wistfully for a moment before she disappeared.

  “Do you think we should have thanked her again?”

  Elena had paused next to a side table in the television room and was lighting the jar candle there. Almost at once, it began to let out a warm vanilla scent, even as the soft glow of its single flame illuminated the room. “Victoria?”

  “Yes.”

  “I think she knows we were grateful. Besides, that’s kind of how she is…just comes and goes when she feels like it.”

  Well, that was nothing more than the truth. During his time here, he’d found himself annoyed more than once by the ghost’s somewhat capricious nature, but now he only hoped she understood how grateful he was…how grateful Elena must be as well.

  He looked over at her, noticing how the yellow light from the candle turned her blue eyes almost green. Almost without realizing what he was doing, he went over to her and took the lighter from her hand, and pulled her close.

  Their lips met, and he let himself drink her in, her taste and the soft scent of her skin, the delicious sensation of her silky hair brushing over his forearms. In that moment, he realized how much he wanted her, how much he wanted to make sure this thing between them was real, was the only thing he’d ever hoped for.

  She pulled away slightly and stared up into his face, her full lips parted. Even in the dim light from the single candle, he saw how rosy her mouth was, how her eyes gleamed as she looked up at him.

  “I want to go upstairs,” she said, her voice husky with desire.

  He didn’t bother to ask her what she meant. “You’re sure?” he asked.

  “More than sure. I want to be with you, Alessandro.”

  He kissed her again, more gently this time, then brushed his fingers against her cheek.

  “Then let’s be together.”

  Elena had seen the master suite before, of course, but she hadn’t come in here since Alessandro had taken it for his own. She wondered, as she watched him snap his fingers and bring to life the pillar candles that stood sentry on the large dresser against one wall, whether this would be their room now, whether he’d want to share it with her every day, or whether they’d still keep up the fiction of separate bedrooms until they found a place of their own.

  He kissed her again, and then began to unbutton her shirt, fingers working their way down until he exposed her breasts, curving above the pretty ivory bra with its accents of black lace. She didn’t know why she’d worn her nice underthings today, but she was glad of them, glad she hadn’t put on her plain old white cotton bra and panties. Breath warm against her skin, he kissed his way along her throat, across her chest, and down to the curve of one breast, slipping it free from the bra so his lips could brush across her nipple, his tongue following soon after.

  A moan escaped her, and her eyes closed for a moment. Oh, dear lord, he definitely knew what he was doing. How exactly, when it seemed he’d lived such a lonely life in Pico Negro, Elena wasn’t sure, but right then she could only be glad that they both wouldn’t be fumbling their way through this. Yes, she understood the mechanics of what was about to happen, and yet….

  Thunder crashed overhead, and the sound of the rain was a steady drumming on the roof. She was fiercely glad of the storm, glad of the way it made them feel separated from the world, wrapped in a glowing cocoon of candlelight and warmth. Suddenly, they were on the bed, and Alessandro was lying next to her, pulling her shirt free from her jeans. She let him work it down her arms, followed by her bra, and then both his hands were on her, caressing her. How strong and yet deft his fingers were, running over her, working their way down to her belt buckle, undoing it so he could reach the button of her jeans and unfasten it as well.

  During all this, she never once thought to stop him. Why would she, when she knew this was exactly what she wanted…that he was exactly what she wanted? Never before had her body felt like this, thrumming with need, yet knowing Alessandro would take care of her, would ease the throbbing ache between her legs, would free her from the last of her doubt and worry.

  Down came her jeans and her panties, and she was naked next to him, feeling deliciously wicked about baring her body like this when he was still fully clothed. He touched her then, stroking her as if to feel for himself how wet she was. Another moan slipped from her throat, this one coinciding almost exactly with another thunderclap overhead.

  But he wasn’t done there. He maneuvered himself between her legs, his breath hot agains
t her skin, and then his tongue slipped over her and she almost screamed this time, hardly believing that anything could feel that good, that he could make the fire roar in her veins with the touch of his tongue against the most sensitive place in her body. Her hands tangled in his hair as he made love to her with his mouth, driving her to a climax she feared almost as much as she welcomed it. What would it feel like, to come to that precipice and go flying over it?

  It felt like every nerve ending in her body flaring to sudden life at once, like waking up after a lifetime of slumber. She cried out as she trembled beneath his touch, until at last the waves of ecstasy rippling through every limb subsided somewhat and he pulled away.

  “My God,” she whispered.

  His teeth flashed in the half darkness. “You liked that?”

  “I’m not sure ‘like’ is the right word.”

  He chuckled then, and began to unbutton his shirt. And although she loved the candlelight, loved the intimate space it created in the room, she also wished it was just a bit brighter so she could see more of his body, could tell more clearly if his chest and stomach really were as hard and defined as they seemed to be. The tattoos covered his arms but no more, and she was glad of that for some reason, glad that nothing would obscure the fine lines of his body.

  After the shirt came his jeans and his underwear, and Elena tried not to stare too much. While she had an academic idea of what he was supposed to look like without his clothes, the reality was a little overwhelming.

  “That’s supposed to fit?” she blurted out, and he laughed for real that time.

  “Oh, yes, my love,” he said. “It will fit. Let me show you.”

  He moved closer, pressing against her, and she realized that because she was so very, very wet, he could slide in easily enough. A sensation of pressure — maybe just the slightest of twinges, not enough to actually be painful — and then he was inside.

 
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