Hidden gifts, p.23
Hidden Gifts, page 23
His father, though…he seemed worried as well, dark eyes shadowed with doubt. “You say that, Rafe, but how exactly are we supposed to locate her? Cat told us that the normal methods of tracking someone down don’t seem to work when Miranda does her disappearing trick. Marco can’t help us, she doesn’t have a phone, and we don’t know how far she’s actually able to travel. She could be anywhere.”
Rafe opened his mouth to protest, then shut it again when he realized his father was only telling the truth. There really wasn’t much they could do, except hope that Miranda would overcome her hurt and return to them.
And why would she do that? he asked himself. If I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t come back here.
He still didn’t know what he’d said to her. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
The one thing he did know was that there didn’t seem to be much point in hanging around the cathedral. Miranda wouldn’t return here, even if she had remained somewhere in the vicinity.
His gaze moved to Cat. Of everyone, she seemed the most sympathetic. In his mother’s face, he’d seen a flash of impatient anger when Louisa claimed he was the victim of some dark spell, as if Genoveva thought he should have been able to deflect such an attack. Anger stirred within him, too, but for both his mother and whoever had made him a target. His talent was a strong one; he wouldn’t deny that fact. However, his gift didn’t lie in defensive magic. To think he’d have the ability to avoid being affected by this kind of attack didn’t make a lot of sense. When you got right down to it, most witches and warlocks didn’t even cast spells in the way that civilians thought they did. Everyone in the witch world had a special talent they could use almost as easily as they breathed, and didn’t stray much beyond that. Spells existed, true, written down in grimoires that were kept in secret cupboards and handed down from generation to generation. The casting of such spells was generally frowned upon, though, and was only the province of the strongest and most experienced witches and warlocks in a clan, not something the rank and file would use.
Gaze focused on his sister, Rafe said, “I need to get out of here. Cat, would you drive me home?”
Her lips parted, as though she was about to reply, but Genoveva cut in before she could speak. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be alone if someone truly has attacked you with a dark spell.”
“I won’t be alone,” he said. “Cat will be with me.”
“Right,” Cat put in, coming to his rescue. “He might as well be at home. We’re not going to solve this mystery by hanging around here. And Mom, Dad, you should probably get over to the restaurant and handle all that. I’ll take care of Rafe.”
He wasn’t exactly sure what Cat meant by “all that,” but if it gave her the opportunity to spirit him away, he was all for it.
Eduardo nodded, although his expression was still troubled. “Cat’s right, Genoveva. We need to get over there and try to address this mess as best we can.”
It was clear that she wanted to argue. To Rafe’s relief, though, she appeared to relent and said, “All right. We’ll regroup and see what we can do next. For now, we need to keep this to ourselves. With any luck, we’ll be able to locate Miranda quickly, and there won’t be any need to tell her parents that this has happened again.”
Rafe wanted to wince at that “again.” The last time Miranda had disappeared, it had been his fault. From the sound of things, it was his fault now, too, although he still didn’t know exactly what had happened.
“Come on, Rafe,” Cat said, coming toward him and looping her arm through his. “Let’s get you home.”
No one stopped them as Cat pulled him out of the room and led him down the hallway outside, all the way to the back of the building, where a door opened onto the parking lot. In the dull orange glow of the sodium vapor lights off the street, he could see his Wrangler off to one side, as well as his father’s Mercedes S-Class. No sign of Cat’s SUV, but then he vaguely recalled that she must have been brought here in a limo.
He got in the passenger seat, while Cat went around to the driver’s side and buckled her seat belt. A touch of her finger to the ignition and the Jeep started right up, even though his car keys and wallet and everything else had to still be inside the building somewhere, along with the clothes he’d changed out of to get into this tailcoat and tuxedo pants.
“My stuff — ” he began.
“It’s all right,” Cat said. “Tony texted me to say he would drop everything off at the house for you.”
That was a relief. A minor one, but right now, Rafe would take what he could get.
He nodded, and Cat guided the vehicle out onto Cathedral Way, then turned left on Paseo de Peralta so she could head to the neighborhood northeast of downtown where his house was located. It was strange to see her so dressed up, elegant enough for a Hollywood party, maneuvering his battered old Jeep through Santa Fe’s traffic.
“Cat — what happened back there?”
She sent him a quick sideways glance before returning her attention to the dark streets ahead of them. “You really don’t remember?”
“No. That is, I got a few flashes, but it’s not enough to put together the entire story.”
Her mouth tightened, and she didn’t reply for a moment. “Let’s wait ’til we get back to your place.”
He wanted to protest but realized it probably was better to discuss all this while sitting down. Jaw tight, he watched the familiar streets pass by outside, remained silent as Cat turned down onto his street and then into the driveway. Still quiet, he got out after she turned off the engine, and waited for her to climb out of the driver’s seat and come to meet him.
No need of house keys for a warlock — he laid his hand on the front door and it opened before them, revealing a dark foyer and even darker hallway beyond. At once he touched the switch just inside the door, turning on the recessed lights overhead.
Rafe didn’t go to the living room, but continued to the kitchen, to the cabinet where he kept his tequila and whiskey and scotch. He hesitated for a second, then pulled out the bottle of Avión silver and two shot glasses.
Cat stopped a few feet away from him and gave the bottle of tequila an askance look. “You really think that’s going to help anything?”
“No,” he replied. “But it might not hurt, either.”
A small sigh escaped her lips. “You may be right. Pour one for me, too.”
He filled both shot glasses and handed one to her. Lifting his, he said, “Salut.”
She swallowed about half hers, while he knocked back his entire shot and poured another. That earned him another dubious glance, but Cat didn’t say anything.
“All right,” Rafe said after he took a healthy swallow. The tequila sang along his jangled nerves, soothing, blunting the edges of his worry and his confusion. “Now, tell me what happened.”
One freshly manicured finger tapped against the side of the shot glass, which was emblazoned with the logo of the Buffalo Thunder resort, about twenty miles north of where they currently stood. “All I can do is tell you what I saw. I’m still not sure exactly what happened.”
She pulled in a breath and drained the rest of the tequila he’d poured for her. Without speaking, she held it out so he could pour her another. Which he did, although not quite as full as the last time.
“You’d have to ask Tony or one of your other groomsmen whether you were acting weird before the ceremony,” Cat said. “I honestly don’t know, because I didn’t get a chance to see you. But once Miranda came up to at the altar, you looked at her like you’d never seen her before, then stood there and announced to everyone watching that you didn’t love her, that you weren’t going to marry her.”
His sister might as well have thrown the contents of the bottle of tequila in his face. He blinked, and reached with one hand to grasp the edge of the counter to steady himself. “I what?”
“You rejected her in the worst way possible, in front of hundreds
“No, I guess not.” With a shaking hand, he raised the shot glass to his lips and drank the remaining tequila it held. No wonder Miranda had blinked herself away. Could he have come up with a worse way to demean her, disrespect her?
And the horrible thing was, he really didn’t remember any of it. Or maybe that was a good thing. If those memories ever did come back to him, he wasn’t sure whether he could face them.
Cat said, “But if it was a spell…then I guess it wasn’t really you talking. The question is, who was it?”
“I don’t know,” Rafe replied. The tequila was doing its work, smoothing the edges of his worry and frustration, but underneath all that, he could still feel a raw, roiling anger. Who the hell would have wanted to interfere in his marriage to Miranda? His parents wanted it — and therefore, so did the Castillo clan by extension — and as far as he could tell, Miranda’s parents were resigned to the situation. If they hadn’t wanted their daughter to marry him, then they could have made things a whole lot simpler by refusing to put her on the train in the first place.
His sister went over the sink and rinsed out her shot glass, signaling that she didn’t want any more to drink. After wiping her hands on the towel that hung from the refrigerator door, she said, “Are you sure? Anyone who’s said something strange to you over the past few days, anyone you might have encountered who would have a vested interest in making sure this marriage didn’t happen?”
“Who would that be?” he said wearily. Once again he reached for the bottle of Avión silver and poured himself a shot. Cat’s right brow lifted in disapproval, but she didn’t say anything. Probably because she knew he wouldn’t listen to her, and also because if he had to get drunk, he might as well do it safely at home. “You think anyone in our clan is crazy enough to do something like this? Hell, I don’t even know of anyone who has the ability to plant that kind of suggestion in someone’s head.”
“Neither do I,” Cat admitted. She reached up to run a hand through her hair, bumped into the elaborate updo some hairstylist had concocted for her, and then said, “Oh, fuck it,” as she began to pull out hairpins and set them on the countertop. Once her hair was lying loose on her shoulders, she gave a sigh of relief. “That’s better. Those goddamn things were giving me a headache. Anyway, no, I don’t know of anyone with that kind of skill in the Castillos, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been someone from Arizona. A Wilcox or a McAllister, or maybe someone from the de la Paz clan. There’s so much about Miranda we don’t really know. It sounds like she really did her best to keep herself pure for you, for lack of a better term, but for all we know, maybe she had a secret admirer, someone who wanted to sabotage your wedding.”
That sounded plausible, although you’d think if there was a warlock in any of the Arizona clans with that kind of an obsession with Miranda, someone should have noticed. Then again, he’d never been there. He didn’t know any of those people, didn’t know what they were capable of. Cat’s suggestion made more sense than anything else he’d come up with so far.
When he lifted his shot glass to take another drink, though, Rafe couldn’t help feeling as though he was missing something important, something right under his nose. Maybe that was just a part of the spell wearing off, although of course he couldn’t be sure.
“I don’t know,” he said wearily. “It’s something we can ask Miranda’s parents when we talk to them, I suppose.” He paused then, and sent his sister a considering look. “If we talk to them, I mean. Do you think Genoveva was serious about keeping this whole thing on the down-low?”
“I’m not sure. It’s been a little crazy.” She fiddled with the hairpins on the counter, pushing them around with one finger, watching as they made odd, angular patterns against the tile. “I mean, Miranda disappeared, and everyone was sort of in shock, and then Mom and Louisa and Malena got up from their seats and hustled you away from the altar. Dad was apologizing, telling everyone to go ahead over to the restaurant if they wanted to, since there was a ton of food waiting for them.” Cat paused and shook her head. “I have no idea if anyone even took him up on the offer, but I hope so. At least then that food won’t go to waste.”
“Sorry about that.”
Her shoulders lifted. “If this really was a spell, then it’s nothing you should have to apologize about. But if that turns out to be true….” The words trailed off, and for the first time, Rafe saw actual fear in his sister’s face.
“If it’s true,” he prompted, and she bit her lip.
“If it’s true, then we need to find out who it was…and what in the world they wanted with Miranda.”
I stood on a landing, a door with chipped dark brown paint directly in front of me. My chest heaved as though I had just run a foot race, although I knew I hadn’t come here under my own power.
Well, not under foot power, anyway.
Every part of me shook, and I couldn’t seem to draw a deep enough breath to get the air all the way down in my lungs, down where it might help to still my body’s trembling, or send the oxygen my blood needed to keep my standing upright.
I placed one hand on the wall, felt the cool plaster beneath my fingers. The lighting here wasn’t very good, just a simple wrought iron fixture a few feet away from the door in front of me, but I knew where I was. I supposed I should have realized I would come here, to this place that had become my only refuge.
Around five-thirty on a Sunday afternoon. Would he be here, or would he have gone to spend some time with friends and family? For all I knew, he might be downstairs in the wine tasting room, since I didn’t have any idea how late it stayed open on Sundays. However, I knew I didn’t dare go down and check, not looking like the quintessential runaway bride in my long silk gown and veil and ridiculous tiara.
What in the world would he think once he saw me like this?
Not that he had to see me, of course. I could just tiptoe down the stairs and call a Ryde —
Well, no, I really couldn’t do that. I didn’t have a phone. I didn’t have a wallet or I.D. or money or anything. And because this stupid power of mine seemed to enjoy toying with me and then disappearing again, I couldn’t just snap my fingers and send myself back to the casita, or even all the way home, to the comfort of my familiar room in the Flagstaff house, or the family room in the big Victorian in Jerome where we’d all spent so many hours together.
I probably could have walked back to the Castillo compound, but I wasn’t quite ready to face the ignominy of trudging through Santa Fe’s busiest part of town while wearing a goddamn wedding dress. The same for going to Rafe’s house, although I thought I’d rather walk naked down Cerrillos Avenue than ever have to face him again.
When I looked at it that way, it didn’t seem as if I had much of a choice.
I drew in a breath, followed by another. You can do this, I told myself, although, judging by the way I stood there on the landing and didn’t make any move to knock on Simon’s door, it seemed that maybe I wasn’t so sure I actually could do this after all.
Gritting my teeth, I reached out and knocked. There. I’d done what I could. The universe would have to meet me at least partway.
The door opened, and Simon stood there in a T-shirt and jeans. Socks, no shoes. I wasn’t even sure why I registered that particular detail, except that it kept me from having to look him in the face.
However, even though we weren’t meeting eye to eye, there was no avoiding the expression of shock and surprise that passed over his features. “Miranda? What the — ?”
“Can — can I come in, please?”
“Um — sure. Of course.” He stepped out of the way so I could move past him, and I walked into the apartment with as much dignity as I could muster, my heavy skirt and accompanying petticoat clutched in one hand to give me a little more f
The TV was on — a football game. Simon hurried over to the coffee table and picked up the remote, then shut off the television. There was a half-drunk beer on the table as well, and the rind from a piece of pizza. In an odd haze, I realized it was one of the leftovers from the pizza we’d shared the day before.
“Sorry about that,” he said, and I waved a hand.
“Oh, it’s okay. I did kind of just…show up.”
“Yeah.” He eyed my wedding gown. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I really didn’t. Then I would have to revisit the agony of hearing Rafe say those terrible words, of having to look into his dark eyes and see a complete stranger there.
However, since appearing on someone’s doorstep while wearing a wedding dress complete with veil and tiara was the sort of thing that generally begged for an explanation, I knew I’d have to say something. “It’s all — ” I broke off, and paused to remove the tiara and veil. I set them down on the arm of the couch. “That’s a little better. At least now I feel like I can think.”
“Do you want a beer?”
I really didn’t like beer very much, but right then a beer sounded like a great idea. “Sure.”
Simon went into the kitchen and reached into the refrigerator, bringing out another bottle of Cumbres Ale. He popped the top. “Glass?”
“No, in the bottle is fine.”
He returned and handed me the beer but didn’t sit down, instead remained standing on the other side of the coffee table, almost as if he didn’t want to risk getting too close to me.
That seemed to be the theme for the day.
I raised the bottle of beer to my lips and took a sip, trying not to wince at the bitter flavor. It was better than nothing, after all, and I needed to do something to try to blunt the edges of the hateful words that kept echoing in my mind.
I am not going to marry this woman. I don’t love her. I don’t want her.
Simon crossed his arms, watching me with worried eyes. “So the wedding didn’t happen?”
by Christine Pope / Romance / Science Fiction & Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes