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Hidden gifts, p.9

Hidden Gifts, page 9

 

Hidden Gifts
 


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“Until six.”

  That was a long time from now, considering the clock hanging on the wall behind the bar told me it wasn’t even one o’clock yet. No way I could stay here and drink that whole time, waiting until Simon was done with his shift. I’d have to be carried off on a stretcher.

  If I’d been a little more sober, I might have also asked myself why I thought it was a good idea to hang around until Simon was off work. But because a pleasant cloudiness had begun to take over my brain, I wasn’t prone to much self-analysis. I only thought that I liked talking to him, and that it might have been fun to go get something to eat, go see a movie. Something normal, like regular people our age did. I’d never been on a date. What would have been the point in cultivating any kind of a relationship when I knew it would only get torn apart as soon as I turned twenty-one and had to leave my whole life behind?

  At least I had enough presence of mind not to voice any of these thoughts aloud. I sipped some more wine, then asked, “Is that when most of the shops around here close?”

  “Mostly,” he replied as he fetched a rag from under the counter and went over to where the couple from Texas had been sitting. He rubbed at some marks I couldn’t even see from my vantage point, then returned the rag to its anointed spot beneath the counter. “Obviously, the bars and the restaurants stay open later, and some of the shops do that, too, on Friday and Saturday nights. But because we don’t serve any food, the owner decided it was okay to close at six. He’s been talking about having some cheese plates to serve with the wine, but that hasn’t happened yet.”

  “Oh,” I said. Too bad about that, because I probably could have used some cheese right then. Or a burger. Anything to soak up the alcohol pooling in my stomach. “Do you work Saturday nights, too?”

  “Yes. I have to get as many hours in over the weekend as possible, because I have a couple of days during the week where I don’t get back to Santa Fe until really late in the afternoon. Luckily, the owner is a family friend, so he lets me be flexible with my schedule.”

  “That’s nice of him,” I replied, thinking how refreshingly normal all that sounded. Going to school, working, trying to make everything fit. I realized I’d never had that kind of experience, because I’d never had a job, beyond babysitting for relatives from time to time. Even the babysitting wasn’t really a job, since I hadn’t gotten paid for it. That was just part of being in a tight-knit clan — you pitched in where you could. “Have you worked here long?”

  “About six months. It’s a decent gig.” He grinned again, dark eyes lighting up with some kind of secret amusement. “Especially when you get people who’ve been drinking all afternoon and who tip you on the price of the bottles they buy, not just the cost of a wine tasting. It can add up pretty fast.”

  “Well, here’s hoping you get enough of those this weekend that you can pay for your car repairs,” I said, lifting my glass in a sort of salute before I took another sip. Well, all right, it was more a large swallow than a sip. The room tilted slightly, and I blinked and grabbed the counter with my free hand, the copper cool and smooth beneath my fingers.

  Simon’s grin abruptly faded. “Are you all right, Miranda?”

  “S-sure,” I replied, even though I was beginning to get the idea that I might not be so all right after all. “I just haven’t had anything to eat. I was supposed to, you know,” I added, my voice dropping conspiratorially. “But I got so pissed off at him that I just walked out.”

  “Him who?”

  I shook my head. “No, I can’t tell you. I wish I could, but that’s just the way it is.”

  Now Simon was starting to look downright alarmed. “Maybe I should text Ryde for you — ”

  “No, I’m okay.” I blinked. Was I okay? Judging by the way I now seemed to see two Simons in front of me, maybe I wasn’t. That Cinsault was some strong stuff. “I mean, I think I’m okay. Maybe I should just go.”

  I began to slide off the tall chair where I sat, but my legs felt like rubber, and the next thing I knew, I was falling in a boneless heap to the wooden floor. Rather than being mortified, I sat there and giggled. “Oops.”

  “Oh, shit.” Simon came around the counter, grasped me by the arms, and somehow managed to haul me to my feet. “You are really wasted, Miranda.”

  I tilted my head to one side, considering his words. “You know, I think you may be right.”

  “Okay, I’m texting Ryde.” Still holding me up with one hand, he reached into his jeans pocket with the other. “Where are you staying?”

  “Nope,” I told him, somehow retaining enough of my faculties to realize that I couldn’t possibly give him the address of the Castillo prima’s house. “I can’t tell you that.”

  “Miranda, I need to know where to have the Ryde take you.”

  “I already told you, I can’t tell you.” I hiccuped, and rather than be completely mortified, I giggled again. Somewhere deep within, I realized that as soon as I was sober I would recall this incident and want to die at the memory, but right now I just found the entire situation enormously funny.

  “All right,” Simon said. He cast a quick glance at the door, but the people passing by on the street kept going and didn’t show any interest in entering the wine tasting room. “I’m taking you upstairs.”

  “What’s upshtairs?”

  “My apartment. You can lie down there until you sleep off the alcohol.”

  I cast a glance at the pressed-copper ceiling above us. “You live here?”

  “I live up there. Most of the stores along this block have apartments above them. Come on.”

  He slipped an arm around my waist, grabbed my purse with his other hand, and guided me back behind the counter and into a storage area. All around were cases of wine, several of them sitting on a table with a stack of mailing labels next to them. I saw a bulletin board, a few large metal casks, doors that maybe led to an office or an employee restroom. Past all this, however, was another door, one that opened on a little foyer with a narrow staircase off to one side. Simon pushed me toward those stairs and then half-carried me up them, since I was in no shape to do anything as complicated as lift one foot and then the other.

  Upstairs was a small landing, with a door off to the right. He fished some keys from his pocket, unlocked the door, and brought me inside. The place was small, with wood floors and walls painted a cheery butter yellow. I didn’t have time for much more of an impression than that, however, because he led me to a worn blue couch and pushed me down on it. Apparently his intentions were pure, because he remained standing, looking down at me with an expression that was simultaneously befuddled and concerned.

  “Try sleeping it off,” he said. “I’ll be back up a little after six.”

  I opened my mouth to tell him that I couldn’t possibly stay here that long. The words didn’t seem to want to come out, though, and the last thing I remembered was him shaking his head as he went back out through the door.

  After that, everything was darkness.

  7

  Best-Laid Plans

  Rafael Castillo

  Cat sat on his couch, frowning so fiercely that Rafe almost wanted to tell her to stop before she ground a permanent line into her forehead. “I cannot believe how badly you screwed this up.”

  Rafe wanted to argue with her, except he knew that he really had screwed up. Fucked up, really. No point in sugarcoating it. The problem with self-flagellation, though, was that it really didn’t get you anywhere. He could analyze everything he’d done wrong, tell himself all the things he should have done differently, but the point still remained:

  Miranda was missing.

  At the time, he’d been so angry about her walking out on him that he’d sat at the table for a good five minutes before finally realizing that letting her just go like that was a very bad idea. Setting aside the reason why she was here in Santa Fe in the first place, she was still a young woman on her own in a town she didn’t know. His first thought had been that she’d call for a Ryde and g
o back to the casita, but then he’d guessed that she wouldn’t do any such a thing. Her pride wouldn’t allow it.

  Which meant she was probably somewhere downtown. He’d gone out and walked the streets around the Plaza, looking for a slender figure with a rich fall of dark brown hair and wearing a dark green leather jacket, but he hadn’t found her. Even when he’d cut down to Water Street and searched the shops there, he hadn’t seen her. If he’d been able to shift into wolf or coyote form, he might have been able to pick up on her scent and track her that way, but since it was broad daylight and Santa Fe’s downtown was packed full of civilians, that option had been denied him.

  He tried to tell himself that she was perfectly safe, that the only danger she faced was being parted from some of her cash in one of the overpriced shops around the Plaza that catered to tourists. Problem was, he couldn’t know that for sure. People got mugged down here. It didn’t happen all that often, but it was a danger. And there was that girl from Oklahoma who’d been abducted from the bathroom of one of the city’s nightclubs just a week before. The police still hadn’t found her, or her kidnapper. Rafe thought that Miranda would present quite the prize to someone who was on the prowl and looking for defenseless young women, especially since she didn’t have any magical talents to protect herself.

  When he couldn’t come up with a coherent plan as to what he should do next, he’d called Cat. Not so much because he thought she could help remedy the situation, but because he needed to talk to someone, and he could trust her not to go blabbing to their mother. If Miranda didn’t resurface, then Genoveva would have to be told what had happened, but Rafe would prefer to put off that evil day for as long as possible.

  “Yeah, okay, I know I screwed up,” he told his sister. “You can give me crap about it as much as you want, but that’s not going to help me find Miranda.”

  Cat crossed her arms, and Rafe had the uncomfortable impression that she fully planned to take him up on that offer. However, her next words were sensible enough, not accusatory at all. “Have you tried calling her?”

  Not quite looking at his sister, he replied, “I don’t have her number.”

  “Oh, for God’s sake.” She rummaged through the embroidered backpack that served as her purse, then pulled out her phone and said, “Call Miranda.”

  Rafe watched, thinking, Please God, let it be this easy….

  But the phone just rang and rang, and eventually he could hear Miranda’s voice coming through the tiny speaker, saying, Hey, I can’t take your call right now, but leave a message. Or text me. Thanks!

  Cat was frowning, but she kept her voice light and pleasant as she said, “Hey, Miranda, it’s Cat. I’m worried about you. Give me a call when you get this, but I’ll try to text you, too.” She pushed a button to end the call, then said, “Text message.”

  The phone’s screen lit up, and Cat dictated more or less the same message she’d left on Miranda’s voicemail. When she was done, she sent a significant glance in Rafe’s direction. “Well, that’s about all I can do on that front. I already called Marco, and he’s driving down from Taos, but he won’t be here for a while.”

  Marco Ruiz was a Castillo clan warlock whose talent was locating things, both people and inanimate objects. Rafe was sure his cousin would be able to find Miranda once he got here; he just wished Taos wasn’t an hour and a half away.

  And he also wished he’d thought of Marco while he was frantically trying to find Miranda somewhere in the shops down by the Plaza. His brains were so fried, it had taken Cat’s suggestion to get their cousin on the case.

  In the meantime, though, there had to be something else they could do.

  “What if we try asking some of the shop owners if they’ve seen anyone matching Miranda’s description?”

  Cat shook her head. “That would take forever. Besides, enough of them know us that word would get back to Mom soon enough. Then we’d be wasting our time explaining ourselves to her instead of trying to find Miranda.”

  True enough. Rafe found himself somewhat relieved by the way Cat had said “we” and “us.” It meant she felt like she was part of this, instead of backing off and telling him to clean up his own mess. Of course, he hadn’t really expected her to behave in such a way, because that wasn’t Cat. Family loyalty wouldn’t allow her to abandon him. He supposed he should be glad that her loyalty seemed to be more to him than the clan at large, or their parents in particular. That was partly due to their being closer in age, while both their older sisters were in their early thirties. Anyway, Genoveva wasn’t exactly the world’s most sympathetic mother, and Eduardo, their father, was so busy with his restaurants that he’d gladly relinquished most of his parental duties to his wife once all his children were of age.

  Their parents’ relationship was downright weird, no matter how you looked at it. They spent much of their time apart because of Eduardo’s schedule, but when they were together, they seemed affectionate enough, stealing kisses, sharing discreet little touches on the arm or hand. Whether all those gestures were signs of true affection or only some biochemical byproduct of their consort bond, Rafe really didn’t know. What he did know, despite those public displays of affection, was that his parents’ marriage wasn’t exactly a great advertisement for the institution, which only cemented his desire to avoid it for as long as possible.

  Especially when said institution involved a girl he didn’t even know.

  An image of Miranda flashed into his head then, of the angry spark in her green eyes and the way her full mouth had pressed itself into a furious line right before she turned and walked away from him. As much as he’d been set against marrying her, he had to admit she was gorgeous, far more beautiful in person than in the images Angela McAllister had sent to his mother. If he’d met her in the usual way, at a friend’s party or out on the town somewhere, he probably would have tried to ask her out. What he hated about this entire situation was the way he’d been forced into it. He really didn’t have anything against Miranda as a person. How could he? He barely knew her. In a way, her walking out had shocked him so much simply because before that moment, he hadn’t even thought of her as a person, only an obstacle to the life he wanted to make for himself. But in that moment, he’d realized she probably wasn’t any happier about the situation than he was, had her own hopes and dreams that had been forced aside to fulfill the bargain their parents had made.

  And he knew he really hadn’t intended to upset her so much, but Rafe was aware that he did have an unfortunate habit of tripping over his own tongue.

  “If we’re not going to ask around, then what do you propose we do?” he asked his sister.

  “Oh, we’re going to ask around, but we’re going to do it my way.”

  “Your way?”

  She’d been playing with the edge of one of the brick-colored throw pillows that had come with the couch, but now she pushed it away and got to her feet. “I’ll ask the ghosts. There are a bunch in this part of town, and they see everything. I mean, what else do they have to do except hang around and watch what the living are up to?”

  The notion hadn’t even entered his mind, but Rafe thought Cat’s idea was a good one. As she’d said, the ghosts would have seen everything going on in their immediate vicinity, and, unlike mortal shopkeepers, they wouldn’t be inclined to let Genoveva Castillo know that her son and daughter had been asking odd questions about their house guest.

  “Okay,” he said. “Where do you want to start?”

  Cat paused for a moment, considering. “Well, there’s Alfonso. He hangs out on the corner of San Francisco Street and Old Santa Fe Trail. Did you notice which way Miranda left the hotel?”

  “Definitely the side entrance, the one on Santa Fe Trail. That is, it looked like she was headed in that direction. I guess she could have cut through one of the shops, like Detours or Mama’s Minerals and gone another way, but I sort of doubt it.”

  “Then Alfonso would have seen her.” A smile touched Cat’s lips, r
evealing her one-sided dimple. “Alfonso’s a sucker for pretty girls.”

  It was somewhere to start. And as Rafe followed his sister out of the house, he reflected that sometimes it was a good thing to be part of a witch clan. If Miranda had been an ordinary missing girl, and he and Cat civilians with no magical powers, they’d have a much harder time finding her.

  At least, he hoped that Cat’s magic could bail him out. If not, he was going to have a lot of explaining to do in the very near future.

  They got in her Mercedes, mostly because it was parked out front and provided a quicker getaway than having to pull his ancient Wrangler out of the garage. As Cat pointed her SUV downtown, she tapped her fingers impatiently on the steering wheel, clearly annoyed that she had to let the vehicle do the driving for her, which meant obeying the local posted speed limits.

  Sometimes, Rafe reflected, it would be nice to be able to actually ride broomsticks. It would be so much faster.

  That was a talent he didn’t possess, and neither did anyone else in his clan. He’d heard that Miranda’s parents had the talent to instantly teleport from place to place. That would be a helpful ability to have, but again, it certainly wasn’t a gift he or anyone else he knew actually possessed.

  All the damn rules about self-driving cars were part of the reason he kept driving the Wrangler. He’d sought it out, knowing that vehicles more than ten years old were exempt from the local ordinances about not being able to manually operate a car in the zone near the Plaza. More than once, Genoveva had lamented his dislike for following rules, for always questioning authority, but Rafe didn’t care. Some rules were meant to be ignored.

  Eventually, they did reach downtown, although traffic was thick, thanks to the usual influx of tourists coming in on a Friday afternoon. Cat parked in the garage at the La Fonda, since hunting for street parking would have only wasted more precious time, and neither of them wanted to go to the lot their family owned in case they ran into someone they knew. Without speaking, they got out of the Mercedes and took the stairs down to the ground floor, then hurried through the crowded lobby of the historic hotel and out to the street on the other side.

 
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