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Haunted hearts, p.24

Haunted Hearts, page 24

 

Haunted Hearts
 


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  Those explanations had all sounded terribly altruistic, although Elena knew the real truth of the matter was that Alessandro wanted to spend as little time in Pico Negro as possible. He would be at the wedding because Ava and Gabriel wanted him there, but they wouldn’t linger. And although his mother wasn’t terribly happy about the situation, she seemed to understand his hesitation and didn’t press him to explain himself.

  And now the time had come, and they all crowded into the small chapel, modest in size but with beautiful stained-glass windows that Teresa murmured in an undertone had been brought all the way from Mexico City. Bright tropical flowers adorned the altar and the pews, the air rich with their perfumes.

  Ava’s parents sat in the front row with Tony and Cassandra next to them, and Teresa and Elena and Alessandro took the other front-row bench as Gabriel had asked them to. Elena felt a little strange sitting in such a prominent place, even though she understood why the new primus had wanted them there. That way, no one else in the Escobar clan would be given a position of preeminence; Teresa had standing of her own as a clan elder, and Alessandro and Elena were there as guests of his and his new wife’s.

  The priest was a man from the neighboring town of San Matías, quite elderly and apparently not at all uncomfortable about being around so many witches and warlocks congregated in one place. But then, Alessandro had explained to Elena that the Escobars had ruled San Matías in all but name for generations, and so she supposed the people who lived there were used to the rather strange situation. Gabriel waited near him, with a kind-faced older man apparently acting as his best man. She didn’t know who the man was, although she guessed he was probably another elder, standing in because Gabriel had no close kin or friends who could assume that duty.

  A pint-sized organ at the back of the room — to match the pint-sized church, she supposed — began to play, and a beautiful girl around Elena’s age, maybe a little younger, began to walk down the aisle. She knew the girl must be Alessandro’s sister Lara, although they hadn’t yet had a chance to meet, since Lara had been busy getting ready for the ceremony, and Alessandro had made sure that they wouldn’t arrive until a half hour before things were scheduled to get started. Well, they’d just have to get acquainted at the reception that would follow the ceremony.

  And then a murmur swept through the church, and Elena craned her head to see Ava walking down the aisle now, in a dead simple but perfectly cut sleeveless gown with a modest train, her wavy dark hair trained into long, loose curls that fell over her shoulders. She carried a bouquet of tropical flowers, vivid and lively against the white of her dress, and she looked stunning. Sure, she was a very pretty woman, but in that dress and with love shining in her dark eyes, she was almost mesmerizing. Elena could only hope she’d look half that good when she and Alessandro got married.

  The ceremony was in Spanish, of course, but she knew enough that she could follow along. Of course, the most important moment was the kiss, an embrace that was maybe a little more passionate than one might have expected in a church wedding. But the two of them looked so happy — and, frankly, model-perfect — that Elena guessed no one would mind too much…except for the priest, whose mouth turned down in disapproval. Well, let him disapprove. She doubted any of the Escobars much cared about his opinion.

  Afterward, everyone spilled out in the village square, where tables and benches had been set out, and a band was already playing lively dance music. Elena caught a few sideways glances from the attendees, who probably were wondering what kind of witch would allow herself to take up with a null.

  One who loves him for who he is, she thought as Alessandro went to get her some sangria from an enormous silver punch bowl on one of the refreshment tables. If all these women were too stupid to appreciate him for himself, then their loss.

  To her surprise, Tony Castillo and Cassandra Sandoval sat down by them, Tony wearing a devilish grin that Elena somehow guessed was his trademark. “Who’d’ve thought it, huh?” he asked as he lifted his own glass of sangria. “A month ago, you were taking our powers away so Vicénte could catch us in his trap, and now we’re all sitting down and having a drink together.”

  “Tony,” Cassandra said in warning tones, but Alessandro only shrugged.

  “It is sometimes amusing, the games fate plays with us.”

  “And he didn’t have a choice,” Elena said fiercely. “Vicénte forced him to do it.”

  Tony shrugged and swallowed some of his drink. “Hey, I’m not blaming anyone. Actually, it kind of cracks me up that you two are living in my old house.”

  Right — Elena tended to forget that her new home had been Tony’s before he gave it to Ava. Poor thing had been traded around quite a bit lately. Well, she knew that she and Alessandro would be there for quite some time to come. They’d love the place the way it deserved to be loved.

  “It’s the circle of life,” she said, and for some reason, they all laughed.

  Much more relaxed after that exchange, they talked about their own upcoming nuptials. Tony and Cassandra had their wedding set for early November — “any earlier than that, and all my New Mexico relatives would probably melt from the heat in Tucson,” Tony observed wryly — and Alessandro, not the type to usually volunteer much personal information, unbent enough to mention his acceptance into the Santa Fe Culinary Institute, with his coursework beginning in August.

  And when Elena was finally able to meet Lara, her future sister-in-law, she saw that she was friendly and open, and obviously ecstatic that the older brother she adored had finally found someone who made him happy. It was in her mind to say that Lara could come for an extended visit in Santa Fe whenever she liked — except she noticed how Lara’s gaze kept straying to a handsome man of around her own age, one who obviously couldn’t keep his eyes off her.

  “Looks like your sister has made her own love connection,” she murmured to Alessandro as Lara went over to the man in question and began talking to him, standing a little closer than one generally would with a casual acquaintance.

  “Tomas?” Alessandro shrugged. “I think he’s had a crush on her for years. Of course, he wasn’t a strong enough warlock to even think of standing up to Vicénte, who also began to show an interest in my sister. But with Vicénte out of the way — and with her troublesome null of a brother out of the country — Tomas probably thinks it’s safe enough to pursue her.”

  Elena lifted an eyebrow at him. “That’s not very nice, Alessandro.”

  He grinned at her then, that rare flash of teeth she loved so much. “I’m not trying to be nice, Elena. I’m just being truthful.”

  In response, she gave him a mock-slap on the arm, which only made him grin that much more broadly, and afterward, they went up to Ava and Gabriel to offer their congratulations. Both radiant, they thanked them for coming, and promised to come to their wedding in Santa Fe in September. Elena thought it should be lovely — they would be getting married in the chapel at Our Lady of Guadalupe, and her cousin Eduardo had offered to host the reception at one of his restaurants. Everyone in the Castillo clan was pitching in to help in whatever way they could, as if doing their best to make up for the wrong Genoveva had done Elena so many years before. In fact, the wedding was costing so little, she knew it would hardly make a dent in her savings account, which was now quite plump thanks to the funds that had been returned to her. And that didn’t even factor in the money Gabriel had promised to Alessandro, his share of the Escobar clan’s wealth.

  Eventually, the reception began to wind down, and Elena and Alessandro made their way back to the hotel in San Salvador — although Tony and Cassandra and Ava’s parents all lingered, probably planning to stay there until the bitter end. Which, as the bride’s family, was their prerogative, although Elena hoped they wouldn’t have too much trouble navigating the tricky roads back to the capital city.

  But those worries were banished as soon as Alessandro took her in his arms and kissed her, and they fell onto the bed, glad to rid th
emselves of their clothing so they could reaffirm their own love, could remind each other of why their own marriage would follow in just a few more months.

  They left San Salvador the next day to return to Santa Fe, to a house which felt a little empty now that Victoria was gone. Elena supposed she would get used to it after a while, but she couldn’t help suggesting to Alessandro that maybe they should get a dog.

  He sent her a wry look from where he was working away at the counter, chopping onions and tomatoes and cilantro for a batch of salsa fresca. “Are you saying a dog is a replacement for a ghost?”

  “Of course not,” she protested. “I just thought it would be fun to have a dog. My fam — I was never allowed to have one.”

  At once, the half-smile he’d been wearing disappeared, replaced by an expression of such fierce tenderness, she wanted to go over and hug him — although she decided it was better not to, since he was mid-chop and she didn’t want to disturb anything. “Then of course we should have a dog. This house and the yard are definitely big enough for one.”

  Which was why they went to the shelter and found an adorable abandoned pup, part border collie, part Australian shepherd, and part who knows what, although probably some kind of terrier, and brought her home. Elena almost suggested they call her Victoria, then decided that might be a bit disrespectful. So their lively ball of fur instead became Lupita, and helped to make their house feel even more like a home.

  And then one night in early September, while the heat of summer was still upon them but Elena could already detect small changes in the sky and the weather, signs that fall was on its way, she woke up in the middle of the night, restless without really knowing why. She slipped out of bed, leaving Alessandro sleeping deeply — he’d already started his classes at the culinary institute, and was putting in long hours — and padded down the stairs in her bare feet, thinking she’d make herself a cup of chamomile tea and see if that would help her get back to sleep.

  The kitchen was very dark, the only illumination the glow from the digital clocks on the microwave and oven, and yet Elena could still sense him there, his bulk a deeper blackness in the gloom.

  “Belshegar,” she said, her voice not much more than a whisper. “Were you the one who woke me up?”

  “No,” he replied. “Rather, you knew I was here and came down to greet me.”

  She touched the switch by the door, turning on only the gentle under-cabinet lights rather than the much brighter wrought-iron fixture overhead. Luckily, she’d thrown a short robe over the tank top and underwear she’d been sleeping in, so she figured she was covered enough. “I’ve been meaning to contact you. It’s just with Alessandro starting school and me taking art classes downtown, and making sure Lupita gets out to the dog park every day — ”

  “It’s fine,” Belshegar, his voice rich with suppressed laughter. “I didn’t come here to take you to task for your neglect…not that I would even call it that. Don’t you know that the life you lead now is something I’ve always hoped for you?”

  Had he truly hoped for such a thing? Elena knew he’d been there for her almost from the very moment she’d called him to this world. Yes, that first time, she’d been scared almost out of her mind at the sight of the demon, who wasn’t really a demon at all, only a being from a world she could barely comprehend. He’d been her friend and confidant, the one who, while he couldn’t release her from the prison her family had created for her, at least could offer her companionship and comfort. Because of that, she supposed he had wanted only the best for her, even if she couldn’t exactly be sure why.

  “It is?”

  He came over to her and laid a heavy hand on her shoulder. “Yes. You had so much potential, were always so full of life. Now you can go out to greet it every day instead of being locked away from it. Why wouldn’t I want that for you?”

  She laid her head against his midsection and hugged him as best she could, considering he was too big for her arms to go all the way around his waist. “You’re pretty amazing, Belshie, you know that?”

  Now he did chuckle, a deep rumble she could feel reverberate through her. “I do now, I suppose.”

  Elena pulled away so she could look up at him. “And you are coming to dance with me at my wedding. Cat’s fiancé Loc — he’s a demon lord — anyway, he says he can cast an illusion spell on you so you’ll look like an ordinary human, which means there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t come.”

  “That was kind of him to offer.”

  Actually, Elena had asked Loc point-blank, because she figured as an erstwhile demon lord, he probably had the most resources to offer when it came to disguising not-quite demons from another dimension. And Loc had agreed, so she knew she’d have one close ally at the wedding. Obviously, she wasn’t going to invite her father and grandmother. They’d get a note after it was all done with, but the last thing she wanted was for them to intrude on hers and Alessandro’s day.

  She didn’t mention that, however, only said, “Everyone knows how important it is to me that you’ll be there. Or at least, everyone who knows about you, which I guess is just Alessandro and Ava and Gabriel and Cat and Loc, but still.”

  “I will be there.” Belshegar paused before adding, “And I will always be here for you, for as long as you need me.”

  Which she guessed would be always. She had Alessandro now, and was already beginning to make friends with the Castillo cousins she’d been denied for the past decade, but Belshegar was her stalwart friend, someone who’d recognized her loneliness and done his best to bring some light to her life through all those long years of deprivation. Little prickles of tears stung her eyes, and she blinked. She shouldn’t be crying now, not when she was so happy. And because she wasn’t sure what to think of those tears, she sought refuge in a joke.

  “Well, we’ll see if you’re quite so eager when I ask you for some free babysitting.”

  Another chuckle. “Is this something I should worry about in the near future?”

  “No,” she replied. After their first frenzied lovemaking, she and Alessandro had been a lot more careful, and she knew she wasn’t pregnant. There wasn’t really time for a baby right now, not with all the things they were trying to accomplish. Maybe in a year or two, once he was done with school and they weren’t house-training the dog, and — well, anyway, starting a family really wasn’t on the agenda at the moment. “But someday.”

  “Then someday, I would be more than happy to act as your children’s guardian.” He smiled down at her. “And I will dance with you at your wedding, Elena Marie Salazar. This is my promise to you. But for now, go back to bed, and your fiancé. All is well.”

  She squeezed his hand, used by now to how much hotter his skin was than an ordinary human’s. “Good night, Belshegar.”

  “Good night, Elena.”

  Then he was gone, disappearing as if he’d never been there at all. The restlessness that had driven her down to the kitchen had also evaporated, and she realized there was no need to make herself a cup of tea. She turned off the under-cabinet lights and went back upstairs, trying to be as quiet as she could as she slipped off her robe and laid it across the foot of the bed, and then slid underneath the covers.

  But apparently, she wasn’t being stealthy enough, because Alessandro stirred and said, “Is everything all right?”

  She thought of the quiet house around them, of the puppy sleeping in her basket at the foot of the bed. Of Belshegar, and the gentle love and strength he’d given her over the years, of how he had just told her, All is well.

  And he was right. The Castillos — or any other witch family — would never have to worry about the Escobars again, not with the bonds being forged between that clan and theirs. They could all look toward a safe future, one where they could concentrate on moving forward and prospering, where no shadow of dark magic would fall on them.

  Elena reached out and took Alessandro’s hand in hers, felt how strong and warm it was, how utterly welcome. And h
ow wonderful to know he would always be here for her and that she would always be here for him, the sorrows that had haunted them now gone forever, driven away by the light of the love they shared.

  “Yes, Alessandro,” she said. “Everything is all right.”

  This concludes the Witches of Canyon Road series. Look for another Witches of Cleopatra Hill spin-off series, The Witches of Wheeler Park, to begin in April 2020 with Storm Born.

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  Also by Christine Pope

  PROJECT DEMON HUNTERS

  (Paranormal Romance)

  Unquiet Souls

  Unbound Spirits

  Unholy Ground

  Unseen Voices

  Unmarked Graves

  Unbroken Vows (March 2020)

  THE DEVIL YOU KNOW

  (Paranormal Romance)

  Sympathy for the Devil

  Charmed, I’m Sure

  A Wing and a Prayer (February 2020)

  THE WITCHES OF CANYON ROAD

  (Paranormal Romance)

  Hidden Gifts

  Darker Paths

  Mysterious Ways

  A Canyon Road Christmas

  Demon Born

  An Ill Wind

  Higher Ground

  Haunted Hearts

  Books 1-3 of this series are also available in an omnibus edition at a special boxed set price!

 
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