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Haunted hearts, p.23

Haunted Hearts, page 23


Haunted Hearts

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“Oh, my God,” she gasped, and he brushed a strand of hair away from her face.

  “It’s all right?” he asked softly. “I’m not hurting you?”

  “No,” she whispered. “You’re not hurting me. It’s amazing. Don’t stop.”

  “Oh, I won’t,” he said. “Or at least, not unless you tell me to.”

  As if she would ever do anything so stupid. She realized then that they probably should have stopped, if only to use a condom or something, but right then she didn’t care. Her period had ended less than a week earlier, so the risk was pretty low, right?

  And if the worst happened? Well, she could think of worse things than having Alessandro’s baby. In this moment — this perfect, perfect moment — she didn’t want to do anything that would make him stop.

  He began to move in and out, gently at first, but then beginning to speed up as they found their shared rhythm, locked together, breaths mingling, fingers entwining while they clung to one another. Elena had never thought she could be this close to someone else, so close they felt almost like the same person, two halves who’d been searching for each other even though they hadn’t realized it until they met.

  When his breaths began to come in short, uneven pants, she realized he was close. She held on to him, not sure if she was going to climax this time, but that didn’t matter because he’d already given her an orgasm that still made ripples of pleasure rush through her body. Maybe it was just the thought of it, or maybe she didn’t know her body that well yet, because when he let out a moan and spasmed against her, she realized she was coming as well, body shuddering as he filled her with his heat. A hoarse cry escaped her lips, and she clung to him, riding it out, not sure whether the thunder she heard was from the storm overhead or the roaring in her own ears.

  A moment later…or maybe it was a century…he relaxed against her, breath warm on her cheek. “I love you, Elena,” he murmured.

  “I love you, Alessandro.” It was so easy to say those words, since they were only an echo of the deepest truth of her heart. “More than anything.”

  His fingers brushed against her hair, and he kissed her. Gently, with none of the raw passion he’d just exhibited, but that touch made a shudder go through her nonetheless. “Tell me it will always be like this.”

  “I know it will.” She paused and added, “Actually, I’m pretty sure it will only get better.”

  “The eternal optimist.” He chuckled, then slid gently out of her. A strange ache went through her at that moment of separation, but she realized they couldn’t stay locked together like that indefinitely. In fact….

  “There’s nothing wrong with hoping for the best,” she said mock-severely before adding, “Now, though, I think I need to go to the bathroom.”

  Alessandro smiled a little at her bluntness, but he didn’t say anything as she slid off the bed, grabbed her panties from the floor, and hurried into the master bath. She cleaned herself up as best she could, then blotted some of the smeared mascara from under her eyes. Between her messy makeup and untidy hair, it was pretty obvious what she’d been up to for the past half hour or so.

  Well, she wasn’t going anywhere, at least, not right away. Sooner or later, she’d have to go back to Lorna’s condo to retrieve her things, but there was no point in venturing out until the storm had passed.

  When she came back into the bedroom, Alessandro was standing up and had just finished fastening his belt buckle. Apparently, that was the end of their amorous activities for now. Elena didn’t mind too much; although the sex had been amazing, she realized now she was a little sore and could probably do with some recovery time before they started in again.

  “All my stuff is at Lorna’s condo,” she blurted out as she gathered up her own clothes and began to put them back on, although she hadn’t really intended to bring up the subject of her belongings right away.

  “Who’s Lorna?” Alessandro asked.

  “She’s the Castillo clan’s accountant. She and her husband own a condo they rent out to tourists, and she was letting me stay there. It’s on the other side of downtown, not too far from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.”

  “Well,” he said reasonably, “we’ll go get everything after the rain stops.” His gaze traveled to the dresser. “Is there going to be room for all your clothes?”

  His meaning was obvious. Sudden heat touched Elena’s cheeks, but she managed to sound casual enough as she asked, “You want me to share this bedroom with you?”

  “Where else would you sleep?”

  She left her shirt half-buttoned and went over to him so she could hug him again. “Have I told you that I love you?”

  “I think you might have mentioned it.”

  Oh, yes, that was definitely a wicked twinkle in his dark eyes. She went up on her tiptoes so she could kiss his cheek. “Just checking.”

  He shook his head but didn’t say anything as he slipped on his socks and shoes. Once they were both fully dressed, by some unspoken agreement, they both headed back downstairs to the kitchen. Alessandro went over to the refrigerator and opened it, frowning a little. “There’s not much food,” he told her. “I sort of cleared out as much as I could when I realized I wouldn’t be staying here.”

  “We could order something,” she suggested. Before he’d mentioned food, she hadn’t thought she was all that hungry, but now she realized she’d barely eaten anything that day and her body was clamoring for something to replace the energy she’d just used up.

  Alessandro was rummaging through the freezer and produced a small box of frozen pupusas. “I forgot we bought these. They won’t be as good as the ones I could make us, but they’ll be fast.”

  “Anything would be great.”

  He set the box down on the counter and turned on the oven — which luckily was gas, and therefore didn’t need the power on to work — to preheat it. As soon as the pupusas were in the oven and he’d found an old mechanical kitchen timer and set it for twenty minutes, he went back over to the refrigerator and brought out a bottle of rosé. “I did leave this, though,” he said. “Something to celebrate?”

  Elena didn’t even care that her stomach was empty. Anyway, the pupusas would be ready before she’d had too much to drink. “I would love to celebrate.”

  After they’d gotten out some wine glasses and opened the bottle, they drifted out of the kitchen and down the hall to the TV room. It was close enough that they’d be able to hear the timer when it went off, and much better to sit there on the sofa and clink glasses in the soft light of the vanilla candle they’d left burning than to loiter in the kitchen.

  “I wonder how long the power will be off,” she said after she’d taken her first sip of rosé.

  “Hopefully, not too long.” Alessandro swallowed some of his wine as well before adding, “I suppose I shouldn’t have been standing there with the refrigerator door open.”

  “I’m sure it’s fine. Even in Las Vegas, our power outages only lasted a couple of hours at the most, and I’m sure the grid is in better shape here.”

  He nodded, appearing to accept her reassurances. Elena hoped she was right. She really had no experience of how these things worked in Santa Fe, but she supposed she was about to find out. Anyway, Alessandro himself had said he’d cleaned out most of the food in the refrigerator, so it wasn’t as if they had to worry about much of it spoiling.

  And she didn’t want to worry. She wanted to sit there with her head resting on his broad shoulder, to drink wine and breathe in the warm, friendly scent of the vanilla candle, and bask in this utterly wonderful and completely novel sensation of feeling safe and loved and right at home.

  “I suppose you’re happy now,” came Victoria’s voice, startling Elena enough that she slopped some rosé on her hand as she sat upright.

  Alessandro didn’t appear quite as surprised by their ghostly visitor. “We’re very happy, Victoria,” he said pleasantly. “Was there something you needed?”

  For the first time since Elena had met he
r, Victoria appeared almost ill at ease. She hesitated, then glanced back at the hallway behind her, although at what, Elena couldn’t quite guess.

  “Are the two of you going to live here together?”

  Although doing that very thing seemed to be their unspoken agreement, since they hadn’t stated their plan out loud, she wasn’t sure how to answer Victoria’s question. However, Alessandro didn’t hesitate.

  “We’ll be together,” he replied, his tone quiet but firm. “Here? I don’t think so. This is Ava’s house, so she has to decide what to do with it.”

  The ghost’s pretty oval face looked paler than ever. “But she’s gone away and isn’t coming back, isn’t that right?”

  Elena straightened and set her glass of wine down on the coffee table in front of her. At almost the same moment, the kitchen timer went off. Alessandro murmured an apology and got up to fetch the pupusas before they burned — forcing Victoria to come farther into the room so he wouldn’t walk right through her.

  “No, Ava isn’t coming back,” Elena said. She felt safe enough making that assertion, since it was clear that her cousin intended to make her life down in El Salvador, not here in Santa Fe. “She’s staying in Central America with Gabriel.”

  “So, she’ll sell the house? What if she sells it to someone who doesn’t want me to be here…someone who’ll have me dispelled?” The ghost’s voice had risen on those last two syllables, telegraphing her anxiety.

  “Someone could do that?” Alessandro asked as he returned to the television room, plate of pupusas in one hand and a couple of paper napkins in the other. “Dispel you, that is.”

  Victoria nodded. “Yes. Or at least, I know it’s possible. I don’t think I could bear to go through that.”

  “Then don’t,” Alessandro suggested. “Have you ever thought that maybe it’s time to move on?”

  “‘Move on’?” she repeated, impossibly going even paler. “Oh, I don’t think I could do that.”

  Even though the notion obviously frightened the ghost, Elena felt compelled to ask, “Why not? What’s kept you here all this time?”

  “I — ” Victoria stopped there. Out of nowhere, she produced her lace-edged handkerchief and dabbed her brow with it, although she didn’t appear to be sweating. How could she? She was long past any physical need to perspire. “What if I try to move on…to ascend…and they’re waiting there for me?”

  “They who?”

  Her small white teeth worried at her full lower lip. Voice dropping to a whisper, she said, “My husband Ernest. And…and my lover Roberto.”

  So that was what had happened to her. Or at least, Elena guessed that Victoria’s husband had discovered she was being unfaithful, and had killed both her and her unfortunate lover. Why the ghost felt the need to be so prim and proper now when apparently she’d been anything but when she was alive, Elena had no idea. Overcompensating, maybe.

  “I don’t think that’s how it works,” Alessandro said. “Or at least, they’re not haunting this house, so it seems they’ve already moved on.”

  “Yes, they have,” came Belshegar’s rumble of a voice from the doorway. He glanced over at Elena and went on, “I know you asked me not to come unless you called, but I could sense Victoria’s distress — ”

  “You could?” the ghost asked, some of her pallor retreating behind the sudden flush in her cheeks. “How?”

  “We have become close enough during our conversations that something of a connection has developed between us,” he explained. “It helps that Elena is here, of course, because her presence already draws my focus. At any rate, I want to reassure you that neither Ernest nor Roberto will be waiting in the afterlife to exact some sort of revenge. That is not how these things work.”

  While Elena was relieved to hear him say such a thing, she wondered how he could know for sure. After all, he wasn’t a ghost or an angel, but a being from a dimension other than theirs. “So, how do they work, Belshegar?”

  Apparently unperturbed, he replied, “This is not my world, and neither is the world all of you will pass into after this one, but I understand how these planes of existence work. There is no need for revenge in such a place, only a desire to continue to evolve. You will see this, Victoria, when you go there yourself.”

  “N-no, I couldn’t do that,” she stammered, once again dabbing at her brow with her handkerchief.

  “You could,” he said, his tone very gentle. “You must. It is time to let those of this world have the space to enjoy it. There is no need to be afraid — I’ll help you along the way.”

  “You will?”

  “Yes.” Belshegar reached one huge, copper-skinned hand toward the ghost. “You only have to trust me.”

  Still, she hesitated. Elena could understand why — after all, Victoria had been haunting this house for many, many years longer than she’d been alive. On an impulse, she got up from the sofa and went over to where the ghost stood. “You can trust him, Victoria,” she said softly. “He’s been my only real friend for the past eleven years. He’s taken care of me…and I know he’ll take care of you.”

  Victoria glanced up at Belshegar, and he nodded. “It’s time to let go. Time to take your next step.”

  Shaking so much that even Elena could see the tremors in her slender limbs, Victoria set her hand in the demon’s, her small white fingers nearly disappearing. His eyes met Elena’s for a moment, and he smiled. “I’ll be back for your wedding,” he said.

  And then they both disappeared.

  For the longest moment, she could only stand where she was, looking at the spot that Victoria and Belshegar had occupied just a few seconds earlier. Alessandro came up to her and laid his hands on her shoulders, squeezing them slightly, reassuring her with his touch. He bent and kissed the side of her neck.

  “She’s moved on to the next stage of her life,” he said. “It’s time for us to do the same.”


  The damp heat as they stood outside Pico Negro’s tiny chapel was unlike anything Elena had ever experienced before, and yet it didn’t seem to bother Alessandro at all as he introduced her to his mother, Teresa Escobar, who had laughing dark eyes and who seemed much taller than her modest height actually indicated. Maybe that was just the force of her personality; Elena could see right away why Gabriel had selected her as one of the new Escobar elders.

  “And when will I see you walking down the aisle, Elena?” Teresa asked.

  That question might have made her blush…if she and Alessandro hadn’t already agreed upon a date. It had seemed safer to have their plans in place before they came to Pico Negro to attend Ava and Gabriel’s wedding.

  “At the end of September,” Elena said. “The weather in Santa Fe will be just about perfect then. We think you’ll enjoy it.”

  “I’m sure I will,” Teresa replied, although she added a bit wistfully, “even if I would like to see you married here.”

  “We want to be married in the place where we will be living, mama,” Alessandro told her. “It makes the most sense.”

  “I suppose so.” But she smiled despite her obvious disappointment; Elena could tell that her future mother-in-law understood exactly why Alessandro wanted to start over in a new city, a new life.

  Or rather, a new life built on something they already knew and loved. As soon as Ava heard that Alessandro and her cousin were formally together and planning their future, she told them that the house could be theirs.

  “If you want it, of course,” she added. “I know that Victoria can be kind of a pain to deal with.”

  Elena had shifted the phone to her other ear before responding. “Actually, Victoria is gone.”


  “Belshegar helped her move on, or whatever you want to call it,” Elena said. “She had been too frightened to do it before then.”

  “Wow.” Ava was silent for a few seconds, then asked, “And she really did move on?”

  “Belshegar told me she did, so she must have.” Know
ing how odd that must sound to someone who didn’t have the same relationship with him that she did, Elena added, “If he says something, it’s true. She’s gone on to better things. I wish it hadn’t taken her so long to work up the courage, but better later than not at all.”

  “Then the house is definitely yours…to do whatever you want with it,” Ava responded. “Knock out walls, go crazy.”

  Elena chuckled. “I don’t think we’ll do anything that drastic. But maybe…eventually…we’ll get rid of the wallpaper and update the furniture.”

  “That sounds like a great idea. But get in touch with Cousin Ernesto about the furniture — Miranda will have his contact information. He’s an antiques dealer and will get you top dollar for everything. That way, you’ll be able to buy what you want.”

  Ava’s generosity had been a little shocking. Maybe she shouldn’t have been so surprised, but after the way her immediate family had treated her, Elena still couldn’t help being startled when people did things simply out of the goodness of their hearts, and not because of what they could get out of a situation.

  “You’re sure?” she’d asked, knowing how hesitant she sounded. “I can put it all in storage or something if you’d rather — ”

  “No,” Ava cut in. Her tone was amused. “You really think I’m coming back to Santa Fe? Believe me, I’m thrilled that I can give the house to someone who’ll appreciate it and really make a home there. Do what you want with it. All I ask is that you send me pictures when it’s done, just so I can enjoy looking at them and knowing the place is being taken care of.”

  There really hadn’t been much to settle after that, except to confirm hers and Alessandro’s travel arrangements and reassure Ava that yes, they would both be there at the wedding ceremony, as well as Ava’s parents and her brother Tony and his fiancée Cassandra, who were traveling down from Tucson for the event. They’d gotten a block of rooms at a luxury hotel in San Salvador, much to Alessandro’s mother’s dismay; she’d hoped they would be staying with them.

  However, Alessandro had argued that he didn’t want to impose, especially because she and his sister Lara had so much to do in regards to the wedding. Lara was to be Ava’s maid of honor, and Teresa herself had helped with a great deal of the planning, since Gabriel had no immediate family to pitch in and Ava’s mother was so far away.

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