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Hidden gifts, p.8

Hidden Gifts, page 8


Hidden Gifts

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  Rafe didn’t take me there, however. No, he passed that restaurant and several others, heading back almost to the Plaza. To my surprise, he led me inside the La Fonda Hotel, an impressive-looking structure that took up basically an entire block.

  “The food here is good,” he said, “and it’s a pretty setting. I think you’ll like it.”

  Even though several groups were waiting ahead of us, as soon as the hostess saw Rafe approach, she made a show of looking down at the screen at her station, as if confirming something there. “Hello, Mr. Castillo,” she said, and picked up two menus. “I have your reservation. This way, please.”

  I could feel my eyebrows lifting, but I knew better than to comment as she took us over to a table in the corner. Rafe had been right — it was kind of spectacular here, because the restaurant was set in a spot where the ceiling was at least two stories high, with glass enclosing the roof and natural light falling on the tables and the plants clustered around them. After murmuring a thank-you, I took the menu the waitress had handed me and waited until she was out of earshot before I said, “Reservations?”

  “The people at La Fonda know my family. They take care of us.”

  He spoke with an assurance that was almost arrogance. I supposed he was so used to his family getting preferential treatment that he really didn’t even see it as such. Anyway, I wouldn’t comment, because I’d seen much the same thing in Flagstaff when I was with my Wilcox relatives. Things were much more casual in Jerome, probably because the McAllisters wouldn’t presume to take advantage in such a way…and the civilians who lived there wouldn’t put up with it, either.

  “The Castillos don’t own this hotel?”

  “No. It’s not good for one family to control too many places. Even in Santa Fe, that sort of thing gets noticed.” He took up his own menu and began to scan its contents, although I got the feeling he already knew everything that was written there.

  Something about his comment made me think about all those restaurants we’d passed. “That place across from the chapel — is it one of your father’s?”

  A muscle in Rafe’s cheek twitched. Without looking up from his menu, he said, “Yes.”

  “So why didn’t we eat there?”

  “Because there’s plenty of time for that later. I thought it might be better to have lunch someplace more…neutral.”

  I wasn’t sure how to respond to that comment. His expression was studiously blank, and even if it hadn’t been, I didn’t know him well enough yet to be able to accurately read his moods. Still, the question lingered. Was he trying to keep me away from his father for some reason? That didn’t even make any sense. We’d have to meet eventually.

  But since I didn’t feel like starting an argument over the situation, I merely shrugged and went back to my menu. When the waitress came over to take our drink orders, I asked for iced tea, while Rafe wanted only water. We also ordered our food at the same time, mostly because he went ahead and did so, and therefore I was kind of forced to make a quick decision. Luckily, it’s pretty difficult to go wrong with an enchilada.

  An uneasy silence fell. I picked up my napkin and put it on my lap, but doing so didn’t exactly use up enough time to make much of a difference. I pretended to look around at the architecture, at the ficus trees in planters that helped enhance the open-air feel of the place, at the stained glass, at the people seated at the other tables. Tourists mostly, I guessed, since we were, after all, eating in the restaurant of a hotel.

  The waitress returned with our drinks and disappeared again. Then Rafe said, “I heard you had a good time at the Halloween party last night.”

  I wondered who he’d heard that from. Cat, I hoped, and not their cousin Tony. The Goddess only knows what he might have said about me. My tone noncommittal, I said, “It was nice of Cat to invite me. I had fun meeting more of your family.”

  “Including Tony?”

  Startled, I looked up from squeezing some lemon into my iced tea and met Rafe’s gaze. His face was still mostly expressionless, but I thought I saw an angry glint in his brown eyes. “Tony seems like a fun person.”

  “As opposed to me, I suppose.”

  Anger flashed through me. Still, my tone was level as I replied, “I didn’t say that.”

  “You didn’t have to.”

  My chin went up, and I narrowed my eyes at him. “It’s all right, Rafe. I’m sure you had much more important things to do with your time than provide some company for a stranger on her first night in Santa Fe.”

  Rafe looked almost pleased by my response, as if that was exactly the way he’d hoped I would react. “So you are still pissed off about it.”

  “‘Pissed off’ is probably too strong. Annoyed, maybe.” I lifted my glass of iced tea and sipped some through the straw, hoping by doing so that I had signaled I really didn’t want to talk about this anymore.

  “You look a little more than annoyed.”

  I took a breath. I didn’t exactly count to ten, but I did allow myself a small pause before I said, “Why are you trying to get a rise out of me, Rafe? Does it really matter one way or another? Yes, I was angry about it, but you apologized. Or,” I went on, struck by a sudden thought, “were the roses your mother’s idea, or maybe Cat’s?”

  Clearly, I had struck a nerve, because he looked away from me then. Voice almost a mutter, he said, “Cat might have had something to do with it.”

  Of course. I probably should have guessed, but I’d been trying so hard to believe that Rafe had realized the error of his ways that I’d refused to consider the most obvious explanation.

  This whole thing was impossible. Why should I try to play nice with someone who obviously disliked me, didn’t want me to be a part of his life? He wouldn’t attempt to meet me halfway…not even a quarter of the way. Better to just walk away and say sorry, your grandmother’s vision or whatever it was obviously was wrong. You go back to your life, and I’ll go back to mine. In a way, it would be a relief to dismiss the whole thing. Surely the Castillos would have to back off once they realized the failure of this stupid bargain had everything to do with Rafe and nothing to do with me.

  I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I’d plucked the napkin from my lap and stood. Rafe looked up at me with some alarm. “What are you doing?”

  “Leaving,” I replied, bending down so I could retrieve my purse from where I’d slung it over the arm of the chair. “I think we’re just wasting each other’s time.”

  “But — ”

  “Goodbye, Rafe.”

  I hurried away before he could say anything. Not much chance of him turning into a wolf or a mountain lion in a public place like that. About all he could do was get up from his seat and chase after me, but even doing that might have caused a scene.

  But, just like the day before, he didn’t attempt any sort of pursuit. I emerged onto the street alone, and looked around.

  This might be my last day in Santa Fe. I might as well take advantage of it while I could.


  Unexpected Encounters

  What I really wanted was a drink. Oh, I could have gone into any of a number of nearby stores and indulged myself with some retail therapy — I still had access to my bank accounts via my phone; at least Genoveva Castillo hadn’t asked that I give those up…not yet, anyway — but shopping seemed like a frivolous endeavor right then. Since it seemed as though there was a good chance I might be heading right back to Arizona, I didn’t think it was a good idea to load up on stuff I couldn’t possibly fit on a plane. As to how my parents would react to such a precipitous return, I really didn’t know. I hoped I could make them understand that I’d tried, but I’d worry about that later. For now, I needed to do my best to get my head together. My hands were shaking, and I knew I had to calm down, find a quiet place where I could take some time to get my rattled nerves in order.

  I didn’t even know where I was going. How could I, when I knew hardly anything about Santa Fe? I started heading west on S
an Francisco Street, figuring sooner or later I’d come across someplace that looked promising. Across the street there was a bar, but it looked a little seedy, especially with the bright light of noontime beating down on its front window and revealing some battered-looking furnishings, with even more battered-looking people sitting at those seen-better-days tables and chairs. It wasn’t exactly the sort of place where I’d want to go in alone.

  There. Just a few doors down from the bar, I came upon a wine tasting room, and figured that should work nicely. I wouldn’t do a tasting, of course, but only order a glass of wine, one which I hoped I could nurse for a while at a table by myself while I tried to decide what I should do next.

  No one was tending the bar when I walked up to it. Down at one end of the long, copper-covered counter was a couple in their early thirties, the woman looking a little tipsy. She smiled as I approached and said, “He’s just in back getting some bottles for us. I’m sure he’ll be right out.”

  “That’s fine,” I replied. “I’m in no hurry.”

  There was an understatement.

  I set my purse on the countertop, took a seat on one of the counter-height chairs provided, and looked around. While I hadn’t been of legal drinking age until the day before, I’d been to all the wine-tasting rooms in Jerome and always liked to see how they were decorated. This one was similar enough in appearance to the ones back home, with its racks of bottles behind the bars, the small tables where you could sit and do a tasting, or cut straight to having a glass of wine the way I planned to. But the place had a fun decorative copper ceiling to match the counter, and black and white photos of Santa Fe’s past on the walls. It was good to look around, just because doing so helped to distract me from the real reason why I was there.

  Then the man working the counter came out from the stockroom with a bottle of wine in each hand, and I almost fell off my chair.

  It was Simon, the guy I’d met on the Railrunner train.

  He recognized me, too; his eyes widened as soon as our gazes locked. But then he seemed to shake his head, as if reminding himself that he needed to attend to his work first, and went over to the couple who were waiting for their wine. Working quickly and efficiently, he wrapped the bottles in paper sleeves to protect them and then slid them both into a gift bag. The woman handed over her credit card, nattering away in her tipsy Texas twang about how much fun it was to discover new wines, especially local ones that nobody had heard of. Simon offered her a polite smile, ran the card, and told the woman her receipt was being emailed to her. Then, mercifully, the couple took their bag of wine and disappeared, no doubt in search of more wine tasting rooms…or maybe just more wine.

  “Miranda.” Simon came over to where I sat, then took a closer look at me. “Are you okay?”

  It was so nice to see a sympathetic face, to hear the concern in his voice, that I almost burst into tears right then and there. However, I didn’t want him to think I’d completely lost my mind, so I summoned a smile and said, “I’m not sure. But I would like a glass of wine.”

  “I can do that. What would you like?”

  “Something dry. Dry red. Whichever you think is best.”

  He looked somewhat surprised at my request — probably dry red wine wasn’t a common choice for twenty-one-year-olds — but my parents had allowed me to drink wine at home after I turned eighteen, since they were of the opinion that if you were old enough to vote, or be considered legally an adult, you should be able to drink. They collected wines from all over Arizona, and had helped to train my palate.

  “Try this,” he said, after pouring a nice garnet-colored wine into a glass, then pushing it across the counter toward me. “It’s a Cinsault. The grapes do really well here in New Mexico soil.”

  That was a variety I hadn’t tried before, which was fine by me. If I concentrated on tasting the wine, on analyzing it, then I might not have the headspace left over to brood about that lovely little scene I’d just shared with Rafe at the La Fonda Hotel.

  The wine was good, fruit forward without being heavy, not tannic at all. I took a second sip, then nodded. “That’s really nice.” I paused, and gave Simon a considering look. “You didn’t card me.”

  “Well, judging by the expression on your face, I thought that getting carded was probably the last thing you needed to deal with right now. But you’re twenty-one, aren’t you?”

  “As of yesterday.”

  His eyes widened. They were such a dark brown that you almost couldn’t see the difference between the iris and the pupil, unlike Rafe’s, which were a warm tea color, almost amber, striking against his dark hair.

  But I shouldn’t be thinking about Rafe, and especially what he looked like. That was the only thing I really found appealing about him. So what if he was good-looking, when he also happened to be a raging jerk?

  Anyway, Simon was attractive, too, just in a completely different way. But again, I probably shouldn’t be thinking about his looks, either, although for another reason entirely. I might have mentally kicked Rafe to the curb, but in the eyes of both our families, we were meant to be together. Flouncing out of the La Plazuela restaurant wouldn’t change anything in their eyes, although I felt as though I was now done with the whole sad charade.

  “I should be pouring you champagne to celebrate your birthday, not Cinsault,” Simon said, and I blinked, bringing myself back to the here and now.

  “Oh, well.” I made a deprecating gesture with one hand, then picked up the glass of wine and sipped again. “This is very good, even if it isn’t champagne. Besides, I don’t feel like I have all that much to be celebrating.”

  He hesitated, as though he knew we were still barely acquaintances, and not really in a position to be sharing confidences. But apparently he decided that wasn’t enough of a reason not to speak, because he said, “Do you want to talk about it?”

  I did, but I knew I really shouldn’t be pouring out all my woes to a man I’d only met the day before. “It’s…complicated.”

  That comment elicited a grin. “Isn’t it always?”

  “I suppose so.” I fiddled with the stem of the wine glass, then glanced over my shoulder. No one had come in to replace the couple from Texas, but still, more customers could arrive at any moment. Even if I did work up the nerve to try to give Simon a carefully edited version of what was going on, I ran the very real chance of someone coming along just as I was picking up a head of steam.

  “Most of the time it’s pretty slow until after three, even on a Friday,” he said, then added, “If that’s what you’re worried about.”

  “Partly, but….” I drank some more Cinsault. It was starting to do a number on my mostly empty stomach, but right then I didn’t much care. There was a burger place a few doors down; I could always get some solid food after this if I needed to.

  And what then? It would be simple enough to call one of the automated Ryde cars, have it take me back to the casita. After that, though…my imagination really didn’t want to venture into what might happen once I got there. Genoveva was sure to be furious, and it wasn’t as if she was the most pleasant of people to be around, even when she was in a good mood. Whether she’d be angrier with me for walking out, or with Rafe for provoking me in the first place, I couldn’t know. Either way, it probably wasn’t going to be pretty.

  “Did you have a fight with your relatives?” Simon asked, and I blinked. His tone patient, he clarified, “You told me yesterday you were coming here because of family. If you’re here drinking alone the day after your birthday, well…it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do the math.”

  “Something like that,” I replied, figuring it couldn’t hurt too much to make a few comments on the subject, as long as I kept the phrasing vague enough that he couldn’t possibly determine who I was actually talking about. “Let’s just say we had a difference of opinion.”

  His tone sympathetic, Simon responded, “Family can be a pain.”

  “But now I’m stuck here,” I contin
ued. “So I have to figure out a way to make things work.”

  “Stuck here how?”

  He only looked politely curious, or at least, that was how I chose to read his expression. Still, he’d asked a question, so I needed to come up with some way to answer him without giving away too much. “It’s sort of an arrangement my family made. I can’t really go back. But I’m not getting along with anyone here, so I have no idea how I’m supposed to make it all work.”

  “That sucks.” Now his face reflected more confusion than anything else. “But…why is it you can’t go back to Arizona? I mean, you’re an adult. You can do what you want, right?”

  The way he said it, the situation sounded so simple. If all things were equal, then yes, I should have been able to pack up and leave, and not have anyone give me any trouble over my decision. Problem was, I had no idea what Genoveva would do if I went back to the casita to get my things and announced I was returning to Arizona. My instincts told me that she would use her prima powers to prevent me from doing such a thing — for all I knew, she could lock all the doors so nothing would open them, would tie me to a chair until I was forced to marry her obnoxious son, or whatever else the situation required.

  “Not really,” I said, then took a large swallow of Cinsault. To my surprise, the glass was almost empty.

  Simon reached under the counter, pulled out the bottle, and filled my wine glass. “Consider it a birthday present.”

  I was already a little fuzzy-headed, or I might have stopped to consider the ramifications of having so much wine on a nearly empty stomach. As it was, right then I was just glad that I apparently didn’t have to worry about running out of booze. “Thanks, Simon.”

  “Not a problem. I wish I could join you, but I can’t drink while I’m on duty.”

  “How late do you have to work?”

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