Immortal: Sample

Immortal by Pati Nagleby Pati Nagle

= 1 =

He came up to my station at the university library desk, eyes green and earnest, and a bolt of lightning shot through me and settled in my abdomen. He was absolutely freaking gorgeous.

Understand, I am not the starry-eyed type. More the shy, geeky, can’t-get-a-date type. In fact, my parents are already despairing (loudly) that they will never have grandchildren.

It’s not that I don’t like guys, it’s just that I’m picky—maybe unrealistically so. But this guy was so exactly my type, it was scary.

High cheekbones, skin fair and smooth with the slightest golden tinge. His eyes, as they held my gaze, seemed to shimmer from deep green to gold-green. His voice was soft and had a slight lilt to it, as if he might be foreign, though he spoke perfectly.

“Can you help me find this book?”

I didn’t want to look away from his face, but he was holding the note out to me. I took it and glanced down.

The handwriting was graceful, not your usual undergraduate’s scrawl. The book was one I’d never heard of, but the call number told the tale. I offered the note back.

“It’s in the Kathryn Wesley Collection, in the west hall. They’ll need your student I.D. and one other form of identification, and you’ll have to use it in the library, you can’t check it out.”

Listening to myself, I sounded like a some awful character in a TV drama—the hide-bound librarian. What I was really thinking was if I offered to buy him a drink, would he laugh? A soda, of course. I wasn’t twenty-one yet. Counting the 116 days left.

He was frowning again, staring at the note in his long fingers. Pale pink paper with the words of some forgotten flyer on the back.

“I don’t have a student I.D.”

Irrational disappointment went through me. Not a student, harder to connect with. He didn’t look any older than me, but I wasn’t a good judge of age. I saw my fantasy receding. No surprise.

I put on my cheery librarian smile. “Do you have a Community Borrower’s card?”

He shook his head, looking troubled. My chance to be a hero, a little bit. I pulled an application form from one of the slots under the counter and laid it down facing him.

“It’s twenty dollars a semester. Fill this out and turn it in with your payment and you should get the card within a week.”

His frown deepened as he scanned the form. He looked up at me, and again I felt like I’d been sucker-punched.

“I cannot wait a week. May I not see the book today?”

“I’m sorry, you need either an I.D. or a Borrower’s card to use a rare book.”

He stood still, frozen in disappointment. I wanted to run get the book and hand it to him, he looked so heartbroken. I watched him breathe three times before he met my gaze again.

“Please, it is important. Can you not help me?”

He had spoken in a whisper, but the intensity of it almost turned my legs to jelly. I gulped a breath as a tingling washed slowly through my body from head to foot.

All attraction aside, this was not a normal reaction. I leaned the heels of my hands on the counter, wondering if he had pulled some kind of hypnotic trick on me, but if so he didn’t press the advantage. He simply waited, watching me with those amazing eyes.

I swallowed and answered quietly. “Well, I could request the book. You could come with me and look at it, but it would have to be after I get off work.”

“When is that?”

“Four o’clock.”

“Then I will return at four o’clock. I should come here?”

“I’ll meet you over by the history display.”

I nodded toward the alcove a few yards along the building from the main desk. He followed my gaze to the glass-encased artifacts and images, currently depicting the history of the Rio Grande, then looked back at me and smiled like the sun rising. I swear I could almost hear birds singing.

“Thank you.” He gave an odd little nod, almost a bow, and headed for the front doors.

“Hey, what’s your … name.”

I hadn’t been fast enough, and I couldn’t raise my voice in the library. His long, graceful strides took him through the metal detectors and the glass doors and out into the autumn sunshine. I just had time to register that his backpack was unusual—soft leather with fringe on the flap and a leather string lashed around a large blue bead instead of a buckle—and that the sun lit his long, russet ponytail almost to red, before he was out of sight.

Amanda, working the next station over, said softly, “Wow, Len.”

“Yeah,” I answered shakily.

“Who was he? I had a customer so I couldn’t listen in.”

“I don’t know. Not a student.”

She pushed up her glasses, gazing out the front doors. “Maybe he’s an actor. There are lots of movie crews in town.”

“Maybe.”

Someone came up to my station with a stack of renewals, ending the conversation. Amanda might well be right, I thought as I processed the books. Our current governor liked Hollywood people and had arranged for lots of incentives for movie companies who shot on location in the state, so it was hard to get around Albuquerque without tripping over a film crew these days.

And an actor might have the kind of charisma that had just bowled me over. My pulse sped up again as I recalled the few moments he’d been in front of me. I closed my eyes, remembering his face, his voice. My heart did a slow flip as I realized I was going to see him again in just a few hours.

“Everything all right, Miss Lenore?”

I flinched back, opening my eyes. Dave Wharton, my supervisor, had come up beside me and I had been so damn preoccupied I hadn’t heard him. The antithesis of my ideal, Dave was stocky, hairy just about everywhere I could see and I’m sure in places I didn’t want to imagine, and full of himself.

“Everything’s fine.” I grabbed the unused application and put it back in the slot, though for an insane moment I wanted to keep it.

“What did Pretty Boy want?”

“Looking for a book, but it’s in special collections.”

Stupid! Too much information. I was giving things away and I shouldn’t. If Dave got too nosy and felt like interfering, he could prevent me from keeping my promise to the gorgeous guy.

Technically I shouldn’t have offered to give that guy access to the book, though it wasn’t specifically against the rules to do what I’d suggested. Stretching them, yes.

I ran through the renewal records I’d just updated on my screen, for the sake of looking busy. Dave watched for a minute, then went away. I breathed a sigh of relief.

For the next three hours I tried unsuccessfully to keep from checking the time. I knew it was hopeless to try not to think about the gorgeous stranger with whom I had made a date, albeit a really tame one. I replayed my few minutes with him over and over in my mind, savoring every impression.

Yes, I am obsessive, and probably too romantically inclined, especially for a wallflower. Guys who fit my taste for pretty men (clean-shaven, thank you, and more sleek than muscle-bound) aren’t all that common, and are usually taken by the time I notice them, if they’re not gay. They don’t often notice me back, either. I’m nothing extraordinary, and I’m shy with strangers, so that’s two strikes in the attract-your-dream game.

I wished I’d written down the title of the book he wanted. It was in Spanish, and I thought it had something to do with colonists in northern New Mexico, but beyond that I couldn’t remember. We had lots of books that fit that description.

To pass the slow times during the afternoon, I surfed the catalog trying to spot the entry. No luck, though I compiled a list of titles that I thought might interest my glorious researcher. Maybe if I was helpful he’d be grateful, inclined to take pity on a poor geek and spend a little time with her.

By three-thirty I was quietly going nuts with anticipation. Amanda had left at two, and the only other person who had seen my researcher was Dave, so I had no one to talk to about him. That was probably for the best, because I was getting too worked up.

The last five minutes of the hour I was useless. Kept staring at the doors, watching for him, terrified he might come and go before I could clock out and go to meet him.

I should have told him five after four. I should have explained that it might take me a few minutes to get to the history display. I—yi yi

At 3:59 there was no one in line. I logged out, grabbed my pack from under the counter and dashed back to the staff room to punch my time card. Dave was pouring end-of-the-day coffee into his mug, and glanced up at me.

“See you tomorrow, Miss Lenore.”

He drawled the words, lingering on my name, trying to piss me off. No way was I going to get into it with him today.

“Right. Bye.”

I shouldered my pack and stepped out, forcing myself to walk and not run to the history display. My heart sank when I saw there was no one there.

Swallowing, I stood in front of a case showing photos of the Rio Grande over time, staring at the pictures without registering them. I should have known better than to get my hopes up. Probably the guy had decided it was too much trouble, or maybe he’d found his book at the city library’s special collections branch. I hadn’t even thought to suggest that. Some help I was.

“Hello.”

I jumped. Heart drumming, I turned and saw my dream researcher standing a few feet away, smiling tentatively.

“Oh! Hi.”

I laughed, self-conscious and delighted and sure I was blushing. His beauty floored me all over again.

“I’m Len, by the way,” I said, considering offering a hand, then chickening out and shoving it in my back pocket instead.

“Len?”

“It’s short for Lenore. And you?”

“Caeran.”

I paused, wondering about the origin of the name. Sounded vaguely Celtic, but I could be wrong.

He watched me, waiting expectantly. I gestured toward the west hall of the complex.

“Well, we should go. The Wesley Collection closes at five.”

He fell in beside me, his nearness making me tingle. I glanced at him as we walked, picking up a few more details to treasure. He wore a loose-weave cotton shirt and trousers—earth-tones—and knee-high moccasins. Very hippie, but not in the sixties throwback sense. The clothes might have been Guatemalan or some other ethnic style, but I couldn’t pinpoint them.

We got in the west elevator and I punched the button for the third floor. No one joined us, so I had him to myself in a confined space for a few seconds. I was all too official about it, mainly because I was feeling shy.

“Did you bring your citation?”

“My what?”

“Your note with the book title.”

“Oh. Yes.”

He dug the scrap of paper out of a pocket. I reached for it.

“I’ll put in the request, and it’ll take them a few minutes to pull the book. Then you’ll have until five to look at it.”

He nodded, handing over the slip. “Thank you again.”

“My pleasure.” I smiled, then glanced at the citation. “You speak Spanish?”

Another nod. He sure wasn’t outgoing, but that was something I could definitely understand. Fighting my own shyness, I kept trying to be friendly.

“That’ll come in handy if you visit any of the rural areas of the state. If I’m not mistaken, you’re new here, right?”

“Yes.” He glanced down, his gaze going distant.

The doors opened and I led him down a short hall to the Wesley Collection’s home, a broad, low-ceilinged space that took up the entire third floor of the library’s west wing. Metal detectors flanked the doors. At the front desk was Barbara Collier, a nice, honey-haired woman who’d helped me with a paper my freshman year.

“Hi, Barb. Can you rush this one for me?”

I handed her the slip and pulled a request form toward me, hastily filling it out. Barb glanced at the note, brows rising as she typed the call number into her keyboard.

“It’s been years since anyone’s requested this. It might have gone upstairs.”

I signed the form and pushed it toward her along with my ID. She just glanced at my card and handed it back. That was an advantage of my being on the library staff; ordinarily she’d make a copy of the I.D. and the paperwork would take a while. Too bad my guest didn’t know how lucky he was.

“Go ahead and put your bag away and I’ll pull this. Is this gentleman with you?”

“Yes, we’re using the book together.”

“Well, it’s a gloves-on item. You’ll show him the protocol?”

“Of course. Thanks, Barb.”

I stepped to the bank of lockers along a nearby wall, pulling some quarters out of my pack before sticking it in an empty locker in the top row. My guest—Caeran, I reminded myself, savoring the name—was gazing at his surroundings.

“You’ll have to lock up your pack,” I told him. “No pens or anything allowed.”

He turned a bewildered look on me. I suddenly wondered if he had money issues. He didn’t look homeless—too clean—but nothing about him screamed wealth. A point against his being an actor, though not all actors were rich.

“We can share, there’s room.”

I shoved my pack to the back of the locker and invited him to add his. He hesitated, then set the bag inside, watching with a slightly anxious expression as I shut the door and fed in quarters.

“You can hang onto the key if you like.”

I held out the key, bulky with its numbered plastic tag. He hesitated, then took it. A shock went through me as his fingertips brushed mine.

He smiled. “Thank you.”

Oh, man oh man. I had it bad.

I led him into the research area, where several large tables were available for using materials from the collection. Two of them were occupied, one by a grad student poring over some ancient maps, another by a faculty member looking through a four inch thick tome. I walked to the counter where a box of clean cotton gloves sat next to a stack of letter-sized paper—goldenrod, so the library staff knew it was from their supply—and a box of sharpened pencils. I poked through the gloves and pulled out a pair, offering them to my guest.

“See if these fit you.”

He put the locker key in his pocket and took the gloves, looking doubtful. I chose a pair for myself, and explained.

“The book’s old. The oils on our skin could damage the paper. We have to wear these when we’re handling it.”

Caeran nodded. “I see.”

I picked up a few sheets of the goldenrod and a couple of pencils. “You’ll want to take notes, I assume?”

“Yes.”

“We’ll use these, and of course we try not to mark on the book. OK, then. We’re all set. Choose a table.”

For a long moment he stood still, apparently giving the selection serious consideration. Finally he moved toward the table farthest from the entrance, and took a seat from which he had an oblique view of the door and the front desk. I sat down next to him, since the tables were too wide to work across. I kept a couple of sheets of the paper and placed the rest in front of Caeran.

Lull time. Quick, think of something to say! As usual, this demand froze my brain.

I swallowed, deciding not to ask him if he was an actor. I’d already tried “you’re new here” with poor response, and “so what’s the hurry to see this book?” seemed rude.

“What brought you to New Mexico?” I blurted, sotto voce for the sake of the other patrons.

“An airplane,” he answered softly.

“Ha, ha. I mean why did you come here? Were you here for the balloon fiesta?”

He frowned slightly, then shook his head. “W-we wanted to see the trees. Aspens.”

“Oh, yeah. I love them, too. You’re here at the right time, they’re just turning. If you want a guide or anything … there’s also one valley of maple trees in the Manzanos, if you like those.”

He answered with a polite smile. I had a feeling I was striking out.

“So, you’re here with friends?”

“Family.”

“Ah.”

While I was struggling to come up with another question, Barbara appeared with the book. It was smallish, bound in leather that was starting to crack with age. I couldn’t quite read the title on the spine. She laid a blotter-sized sheet of white paper on the table in front of us, pushing the goldenrod out of the way, and tenderly set the book on top of it.

“There you go,” she said in hushed, slightly reverent tones, her gaze flicking to Caeran’s gloved hands. “Let me know if you need anything else.”

“Thanks, Barb!” I whispered as she went back to the front desk.

Caeran hesitated, and I thought it might be because I was right there, so I picked up my pencil and started making a grocery list on one of my sheets of paper. After a moment he opened the book. I kept my eyes on my list and counted to sixty before daring a glance.

The print was old and fairly dense, and in Spanish. I’d taken a couple of semesters in high school, not enough to really be able to comprehend text without the company of a Spanish dictionary. I figured if I was curious I could always request the book another time and puzzle through it. What I didn’t want was to make Caeran uncomfortable, so I didn’t try to read over his shoulder. I worked on my list, and drank in my impressions of him as he sat beside me.

I wasn’t quite close enough to register his smell, at least not consciously, but pheromones or something were making me high. I was falling for him, which was probably not a good idea but sometimes your body doesn’t give you a choice about these things. I was hypersensitive to his every movement, all of which were graceful. He never coughed or fidgeted, just sat there silently turning pages.

He scanned them quickly. I guessed he was skimming, looking for something to catch his eye. He was halfway through the book before he paused to make a note. I glanced up as he picked up his pencil. Nothing special on the page as far as I could tell, but his gaze, his whole attitude, had intensified.

He wrote down one word—a name—then kept reading.

I had finished my grocery list, so I made a list of things to do. When that was done I gave up and started doodling.

Every now and then Caeran would make another note. His page looked like a list, too; a list of surnames, a couple with annotations of place names, I thought. I tried not to snoop too blatantly, but I was curious. What could be so urgent about this centuries-old history? Why couldn’t it wait a week?

Maybe it hadn’t been the wait, but the twenty dollars that had bothered him. Except that if he could afford airfare, then twenty bucks shouldn’t be a problem.

Where had he come from? I wondered. The UK? Europe?

And why come to New Mexico for aspens, when the Colorado Rockies were right next door? Aspen-viewing, and then suddenly an urgent need to research New Mexico’s colonial history? I must not have the whole picture.

Barb came out from the front desk and started going to each of the patrons, quietly informing them that the facility was about to close. I glanced at my watch, which read 4:55. Caeran seemed not to have noticed, but when Barb came over to us he sat back. He’d gotten about halfway through the book.

“We’ll be closing in a few minutes,” Barb said.

Caeran nodded, made a note of the page number, then closed the book and handed it to her. “Thank you.”

She smiled and headed for the guy with the maps. I pulled off my gloves.

“Did you get what you needed?” I asked softly.

A slight frown creased his brow. “Perhaps.”

“We could come again tomorrow if you want to finish.”

He turned his head to meet my gaze. “That is kind of you. Thank you.”

I smiled. “Glad to help.”

He removed his gloves and picked up his notes, carefully folding it in half. We stood up and I gathered the unused paper, pencils, and the gloves and carried them back to the counter.

Caeran took the key from his pocket, then stood frowning at the row of lockers.

I joined him. “I think it’s number four.”

I pointed to our locker and watched him try to fit the key into the lock. He turned it over a couple of times before he got it to go in. I bit my tongue on an offer to help. He wasn’t stupid, just unfamiliar with the format. My curiosity about him grew.

He slid his notes into his pack and followed me to the elevator. The map-guy grad student joined us, to my silent regret. Ignoring him, I smiled at Caeran and took my heart in my hands.

“So, can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

Caeran looked surprised, then gave me his polite smile. “Thank you, but I must return to my kindred. My family.”

“Ah. OK.”

Hiding my disappointment, I folded my page of lists into quarters and stuffed it into my pocket. The elevator opened and we walked out. I waited for the map guy to get out of earshot, then turned to Caeran with a friendly smile.

“Well, see you tomorrow maybe, if you want to go through the rest of that book. I’ll be working ’til four again.”

He turned to me, his glorious face showing mixed emotions that I wasn’t sure I was reading correctly. Doubt? Speculation? He seemed to be looking at me, really looking at me, for the first time. My heart suddenly tried to fly up out of my chest.

The small crease on his brow faded, as if he’d reached a decision. “If I return, shall we meet in the same place?”

I nodded. “History display. Yeah.”

He kept gazing at me, and I stared back, mesmerized. He made me feel like I was floating in an exquisite limbo. I didn’t know if he was doing it on purpose, and I didn’t care. I did get the feeling that he was examining me as if I was some interesting specimen. Didn’t care about that either. I could have stood there for hours.

Suddenly he smiled. “Thank you for your help.”

I sucked in a giddy breath. “Any time.”

He turned and strode away. End of interaction.

I walked after him, knowing it was hopeless to play the moth drawn to the flame, but unable to resist. He went out the doors and turned west, heading for University Boulevard.

His stride was long and I had to hurry to keep him in sight. At the same time I didn’t want him to catch me following him, so I kept a few other students between us. That got harder as we moved toward the edge of campus and the crowd thinned out. I dropped to a stroll and tried to look like I was just walking along enjoying the day.

Leaves were turning orange and gold, the fallen ones swirling on the sidewalks and in the gutters. Roses in front of the older buildings on the street were showing a last, glorious pre-winter bloom. It was sunny with a cool breeze, perfect weather.

Just before reaching University, Caeran turned south along the street that loops the campus. I followed at a careful distance, composing excuses in case he caught me following him and confronted me. If he was aware of me—and it was quite possible he was—he chose not to show it. He walked to the south side of campus, crossed a lawn to Central Avenue, and went to the bus stop.

I sat down under a tree, watching him, debating whether to join him. Instinct warned me that would be a bad move. Not good if he were to get the idea I was stalking him. Which, basically, I was.

It didn’t matter anyway. In a few minutes a bus arrived and he got on it, heading for downtown. I watched it roll away.

I might see him again tomorrow, if he decided to look at the rest of the book. Should I be so lucky, though, it would probably be the last I saw of him, unless I was somehow able to connect with him.

I rubbed my eyes. I wasn’t good at this. I should let it go—let him go, and just enjoy the memory of his incredible beauty. Maybe tomorrow I’d try to sneak a photo of him as a memento.

Laughing at myself, I got up and slung my pack over my shoulder. A few yards away a weathered man in filthy, beat-up denims turned bloodshot eyes toward me. Street dudes hung out along this stretch of grass fairly often. I looked away to discourage him from panhandling me, and strode briskly back the way I had come.

I needed distraction. I had the novel I was currently reading in my backpack, but I knew I’d be too restless to sit and read. A movie might do it, but none of the titles in the theaters interested me. There was always fun, off-beat stuff showing at Student Union Building, but that wouldn’t be until later in the evening.

And I didn’t really feel like a movie. I wanted something more breathtaking, some environment in which I could fantasize about being with Caeran, since fantasy was likely to be as close as I got.

I wanted to ride the tram to the top of the mountains and stand looking out over a hundred miles of beauty. Since tram tickets were pricey, I settled instead on a visit to the bosque. Fall color was just coming in along the river, and the leaves of the cottonwood forest would be all green and gold. I’d have to hurry—the Nature Center would be closed—but I should still have about an hour to wander around on the trails before the sun set.

Walking across campus to my dorm to get my car, I thought about Caeran. Not only was he gorgeous, he seemed to have a lot of the qualities I liked. He was graceful, and modest. Elegant? Nothing about his appearance said that, but I had to add it to the list of his merits. He felt elegant. Like he’d come from a more gracious time. Or maybe I was just reacting to his slightly unusual behavior—maybe it was a cultural thing.

So, OK, what did I not like about him? Anything? Other than the fact that he wasn’t as nuts about me as I was about him?

I couldn’t think of anything. Knowing it was unwise to be so obsessed with a stranger, I tried to think of things that, while I might not mind them, could be warning signals.

Possibly he didn’t have a lot of money. He’d been reluctant to spring for a Borrower’s Card, and he’d taken the bus. He had also mentioned coming here by plane, but that could have been a lie.

My besotted soul instantly objected to the thought that Caeran could possibly be deceitful. Gut feeling told me he was honest. Gut feeling might well be partial, though, so I tried to ignore it.

Could he be trying to take advantage of me somehow? I didn’t think so. It would have been pathetically easy for him to do so, but he’d declined my offer of coffee. If he’d been looking for a mark, he’d have said yes.

True, he asked for my help, but only in getting to the book. Which brought me back to wondering why the book was so urgently important. All he’d taken from it was a list of names of people who were long dead.

Identity theft? Nah—there had to be easier ways. Crooks didn’t draw attention to themselves by requesting rare books in libraries.

Although … I had done the requesting. I didn’t even know Caeran’s last name.

I was stumped, and I had reached the dorm parking lot. Giving up the puzzle for the moment, I got in my car and drove through the city toward the Rio Grande.

 

= 2 =

The sun was headed toward the volcanic escarpment west of town, and the late afternoon sunlight slanted through the trees of the North Valley, setting yellow leaves aglow. I parked on a side street near the entrance to the Nature Center, which was already locked up. A gap in the fence nearby gave access to the bike trails along the bosque, via a wide path with cottonwoods behind the fences on either side.

Grand old trees, going golden for fall, a few leaves already dropping to brighten the cinder path. I inhaled the dry-leaf smell of autumn and sighed with pleasure.

The path gave onto a walking trail that ran along a flood-control ditch. I crossed the ditch on a footbridge and headed up to the bosque proper—the forest that ran along the Rio’s flood zone, all through the city. A paved bike trail ran between the bosque and the ditch. I crossed it and went into the woods, turning south, away from the most frequented trail.

Dust rose up from my footfalls to hang in the late afternoon sunshine. Birds chattered and fussed; I heard some geese calling as they flew over, heading for the pond at the Nature Center. I looked up through the tree branches, peering into the blue beyond the golden leaves, hoping to catch sight of a passing “V” of sandhill cranes. I didn’t see any, nor hear any when I paused to listen.

I closed my eyes, thinking of Caeran, picturing him beside me, thanking me for showing him these trees, which were nearly as beautiful as the aspen groves up in the mountains. I laughed softly at myself, then walked on, content with the fantasy.

The sun was heading toward the escarpment and would set before long. I could feel the air getting cooler as the sunlight retreated. I kept going, though, giving myself permission to walk until the sun was actually down. Then I should head back. The bosque was fairly safe, but I didn’t care to walk alone there at night, and I was a bit off the beaten path. Still on a trail, though, even if it was little more than a dusty track through the undergrowth.

I came around a bend where the trail skirted a thicket of olive trees, and stopped. A few yards away a homeless guy was squatting in the dirt, whittling on a stick with a knife. I was about to back away when he turned his head a little and I saw a familiar jawline. My heart jumped.

“Caeran?”

He looked up at me in surprise, and I saw that it wasn’t Caeran. It was someone who looked a whole lot like him, though.

“Oh—sorry! You must be one of Caeran’s family. Is he here?”

He stood up and faced me, and I saw that what I’d taken for ratty clothes were a shirt and loose trousers a lot like what Caeran wore. This guy was every bit as gorgeous as Caeran, but not as trusting. He was still holding the knife, which didn’t make me as nervous as it had at first, but I took note of it. He frowned at me.

“How do you know Caeran?”

“H-he came to the library where I work.”

The stranger stared at me intently, reminding me of how Caeran had done something similar, though it felt more like a threat with this guy. He didn’t smile at all.

A tingle started at the back of my neck. The guy’s eyes—green, but darker than Caeran’s—bored into me, and for a moment I thought I saw a faint glow around his head. I felt like he was trying to see right into my heart. Something like a whisper went through the back of my mind. I couldn’t make out the words.

Then he looked away, leaning against a tree trunk and whittling at his stick again. “Caeran is not here.”

I blinked. The glow was gone, or I had imagined it. “Oh. Well … when you see him, tell him I said hi. Len, from the library.”

No acknowledgment. Only the long scrape of the blade along the stick. A curl of pale wood fell to the ground.

OK, fine. I could take a hint. I went back the way I’d come.

By the time I got back to my car it was twilight. I paused to inhale one last breath of autumn, and to gaze at Venus blazing above the escarpment in a sky of deep, glowing blue.

I’d satisfied my itch for the outdoors, but I had even more questions now. Who was Caeran’s look-alike, and why was he so unfriendly? He’d radiated “leave me alone” vibes. Most people who hiked in the bosque were pretty outgoing, but then, he wasn’t from around here.

I drove back to campus, musing about having met not one, but two drop-dead gorgeous strangers in one day. Weird that I had run into the second one, but then, Caeran had said they were interested in fall color, so the bosque wasn’t an unlikely place for them to go. I hadn’t been thinking about that when I decided to go there—at least, not consciously.

I wondered if it was just the two of them in town, or if there were more. The actor scenario seemed less and less likely.

Maybe they were staying at one of the B&B’s in the area. That would make a kind of sense, except why had Caeran taken a bus instead of a rental car?

Or could be they were visiting friends … but that felt unlikely. A local friend would have told Caeran what to expect at the university’s library, would have given him a ride. No, the more I thought about it, the more Caeran struck me as someone finding his way through a culture that was foreign to him.

And that might explain his family member’s unfriendliness. Fish out of water, instinctively defensive. Made sense.

Back at the dorm, I took a long, hot shower. I didn’t feel like going out again for a movie, so I worked on a paper that was due the next week, then read until it was late enough to try to sleep.

Caeran dominated my thoughts as soon as my head hit the pillow. I let myself daydream about him, hoping to fall asleep. It took a while, and the fantasies got elaborate and a little far-fetched, before my brain finally gave it up.

I dreamed about him, or maybe my memory got fuzzed with the daydreams. At any rate, when I woke up I was clutching my pillow. I got up, ate a carton of yogurt, went to my early class, then headed back to the library for my shift.

Amanda didn’t work Thursdays, so again I had no one to talk to. The first couple of hours were busy, though—lots of folks in on their lunch hours.

I hoped Caeran was going to show up, but if he didn’t, I’d look through the book and try to figure out what he was after. I might have to resort to a Spanish dictionary. There was probably one in the Wesley Collection that I could use.

I did better at not looking at the clock, but I was still antsy the last hour of my shift. There was a real chance that Caeran wouldn’t come back. He hadn’t said for sure that he would. I kept telling myself that, trying to stay cool, but my brain was already picturing us sitting together.

I tried pretending he had said he wouldn’t be returning. That sort of worked, at least so far as allowing me to appear unconcerned. I was very concerned, of course, but was able to hide it.

I watched the digital clock on my monitor tick away the last sixty seconds of my shift. At four precisely I picked up my pack and logged out. No Dave to harass me in the break room, for which I gave silent thanks. I slung my pack over my shoulder and headed for the history display.

Caeran was there. My heart jumped with glee. I slowed down, wanting to look at him for a moment before he noticed me.

He was looking at a section of the display that covered the bosque. He seemed intent on it, but maybe he was just intent about everything. I remembered his look-alike from the evening before and wondered if they had talked about me.

He sensed my presence and looked up. I smiled.

“Hi. Back for more?”

“Yes.”

“OK, let’s go.”

We went up to the collection. I’d hoped we would talk in the elevator but there were some exuberant freshmen riding it with us, headed for the stacks. Caeran ignored the glances the girls threw at him, and the surly looks from the guys. I was pretty sure he’d noticed, though he gave no sign of it. I mean it would be hard not to notice the giggling.

We escaped into the quiet of the Wesley Collection. Barb had the book waiting at the counter and we sailed through checking in. Caeran even had some quarters ready for the locker.

He seemed completely confident now, unlike his hesitance the previous day. It reinforced my impression that he was dealing with an alien culture. He seemed to be adapting well.

I sat doodling again and watching him covertly, wishing we had talked more. Afterward, I promised myself. I would start a conversation, find out his last name at least. Maybe try again to ask him for coffee.

He made another list of names. Shorter, this time. He got through the rest of the book with ten minutes to spare, then leaned back in his chair, frowning at his notes. I sneaked a peek and saw that one of the names was circled. It looked like “Madera,” and there was a note beside it that I couldn’t read.

“Find what you need?” I whispered.

“I hope so.”

“If I can do anything to help …”

I stopped when he looked at me. The intensity of his gaze made my stomach flip over. For a long moment I gazed back, then he whispered to me.

“Does the library have information about local transportation?”

“Uh—some. Student Union Building’s a better bet. Or the Internet.”

He’d been on the bus, so he must have information for the city’s routes, or know where to find it. What more did he need to know?

He made a note on his page and sat frowning at it. I watched him, holding still, almost holding my breath.

He looked at me once more, the searching-your-soul look that had held me spellbound before. Worked again; I couldn’t move, not that I wanted to. It scared me a little, but I liked it.

Finally he looked away. I sucked in a breath.

“May I call you?” he said, and my heart lurched. “If I need more information?”

“S-sure. I’ll give you my cell number.”

He laid his list down on the table and I scrawled my name and number at the bottom of the page. I was really proud that my hand didn’t shake.

“Thank you.”

He folded the page and stood up. I shoved my doodles in my pocket and followed him to the lockers, bringing along the book, which he seemed to have forgotten. I handed it over to Barb, thanking her, then accepted my pack from Caeran.

We got in the elevator. Panic time! I might not see him again.

“Could I have your number too?”

He blinked at me. “I don’t have a phone.”

“Oh, OK. Well. Do you have time for coffee today?”

He looked like he was about to say no, then changed his mind. “Perhaps. Could we find transportation information at the same time?”

“Sure. SUB’s got an espresso stand.”

I smiled and he smiled faintly back. My heart was trying to fly. I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to spoil my luck by saying the wrong thing. Caeran didn’t always react the way I’d expect.

We left the library and I started toward the SUB. Caeran kept pace with me, his stride graceful and silent.

“It is far?” he asked after a moment.

“No, that’s it right ahead.”

I led him inside the big building. As always, the place was bustling with students, chatting, surfing the Web, doing homework in the big dining rooms or at cafe tables in the halls.

The information booth was close to the entrance we’d used, in a slightly less trafficked area. The espresso stand was farther in. I walked over to the racks of leaflets by the wall, hoping not to have to talk to the girl manning the info booth. It was early enough in the semester that she had a couple of people standing at her counter.

I turned to Caeran. “What did you want to know?”

He scanned the flyers, wearing his intent expression. “How to get to the north of the state.”

“Well, there are maps here—“

“Not directions. Method. Are there buses that go there?”

“It depends where you’re trying to go.”

He took his page of notes out of his pocket and unfolded it. “Guadalupita.”

“I never heard of Guadalupita. Where is it?”

For the first time that day, he looked hesitant. “North.”

“We need the Internet.”

I walked over to some empty chairs and pulled my netbook out of my pack. The SUB’s wireless was dog slow—too many users—but I was able to call up a map. Guadalupita was a tiny spot on a tiny road north of Mora, which itself was a far cry from downtown Albuquerque.

“It’s in the middle of nowhere. There won’t be bus service. Closest you could get is probably Taos.”

Caeran sat next to me and peered at the screen. “Perhaps I could walk from Taos.”

“It’s over fifty miles! Through the mountains!”

Caeran frowned slightly. “Then it might take too long.”

“Look, the best way to get there is gonna be by car. A one-day rental wouldn’t cost too much. Most of the car places have Internet coupons—”

“I don’t drive.”

He said it very quietly, as if he didn’t want to be overheard. I glanced at a couple of guys walking past and lowered my voice.

“Does anyone in your family drive?”

He shook his head. I had trouble wrapping my brain around an entire family that didn’t drive, but then, if he was from Europe or someplace where they didn’t use cars so much …

Caeran was still staring at the map. I got a crazy idea. I tried to fight it down, but I was too hooked on him and I wasn’t thinking rationally. It was a damn good thing he showed no signs of being a psychopath, though that might not have stopped me.

“I have a car.”

He looked up at me, his face suddenly lit with hope so intense it took my breath away. The next moment he shook his head.

“I cannot impose on you.”

“You could cover the gas. I wouldn’t mind driving.”

He looked incredulous. “You would undertake to drive strangers that far?”

“Well, it depends how many strangers. My Saturn holds four—five if you squish.”

I wondered belatedly if his surly look-alike was going to be included. Not that I could back out now, or wanted to. My heart was pumping at the thought of spending several hours with Caeran, though the family chaperones would be a damper.

He was frowning again, staring into space. It gave me time to realize just how crazy I was acting. He and his family could be criminals. They could steal my car and desert me in nowhere’s-ass, New Mexico. Or worse.

But not Caeran. I knew in my soul he wouldn’t hurt me.

“You know nothing about me,” he said softly.

“That’s true. You could tell me your last name.”

He seemed to find that funny. “Woods.”

Too ordinary a name for him. “OK, so now I know something about you.”

He was still smiling, and frowning at the same time, shaking his head. “If you drove us to Guadalupita, you would learn more about us than you want to know.”

“Are you kidding?”

He looked at me, surprised.

“I want to know everything about you.”

His eyes went wide. I had the sudden sensation of falling into them, of being absorbed into his being. Then he looked away, leaving me with residual vertigo.

“Len, I shouldn’t.”

It was the first time he’d said my name. I wasn’t even sure until then that he remembered it. A tingle went through me.

“Why not?”

He surprised me by burying his face in his hands. The gesture, his posture, spoke of distress. I wanted to fold my arms around him. I clutched my netbook instead.

“Look, it’s a long drive. We can talk on the way. I’d like to … I know it sounds like a cheesy line, but I really would like to get to know you.”

He was still for a long moment, then suddenly sat up. “I need to make a phone call.”

I offered him my cell. He looked at it, looked at me.

“Want me to dial it? What’s the number?”

“I don’t know yet. I need to look it up.”

I brought up a search engine on my netbook. “Name?”

He didn’t bother to look at his notes, but gazed at me, slightly worried. “De Madera.”

“In Guadalupita?”

“Yes.”

I typed it in, not feeling hopeful. Tiny town like that, guy might not have a phone. And that was one of the names Caeran had pulled from that old book—who knew if the family was still there?

The name came up, though. I punched the number into my cell phone and handed it to Caeran.

He stood, pacing while the phone rang, then he stopped and said, “Señor de Madera?”

The next moment he turned away, and I couldn’t understand the rest of what he said. It didn’t sound like Spanish, unless it was some ancient colonial Spanish or something. I should recognize that, though. New Mexico’s Spanish vernacular had a lot of colonial influence.

The conversation was brief, but evidently satisfactory. Caeran returned, eyes blazing as he handed me back my phone.

“You are sure you wish to do this? To help us in this way?” he said softly.

“Yeah. I am.”

“So be it. I will do all I can to repay you. When do we leave?”

“Uh … well, it’ll take about four hours to drive, maybe more. If we left now—with the time to pick up your family—we probably wouldn’t get there until after ten.”

Caeran shook his head. “That will not do. I must stop at the bar to ask directions, and it will be closed by then.”

Guadalupita had a bar?

“OK. I have a class in the morning, but it gets out at 11:30. We could leave then, be there around four or five.”

“Very well. Should I meet you here?”

“Would it be easier if I picked you up?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

He looked relieved, and I wondered again what the urgency was. Didn’t quite have the nerve to ask.

“How many of you are there?” I asked instead.

He rubbed his chin, frowning slightly. “It will be me and two of my cousins.”

“OK.” I put away my netbook and took out my notes from the library. “What’s the address?”

He looked at me. “You met one of my cousins last night.”

So he had heard about that. “In the bosque, yeah.”

“Come there.”

“To the bosque?” I glanced around, making sure no one was listening, and lowered my voice anyway. “Caeran, are you living in the bosque?”

A smile tugged at one corner of his mouth. “We are used to camping.”

I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake. The more I learned about Caeran, the weirder the whole thing sounded.

Maybe he was homeless after all. But he didn’t set off my creepazoid alarm the way most homeless guys did.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Caeran glanced toward a loud gaggle of kids coming down the hall. “Shall we walk?”

“Sure, OK. Let’s get that coffee, if you’re still interested.”

We hit the espresso stand—latté for me and hot tea for Caeran—and went outside. It was heading for six o’clock, and the sun was starting to set. Air was cooling down already. We strolled back past the library toward the pond, sipping our drinks, not talking until we stopped at a bench under some trees.

Sparrows swarmed toward us, then hopped away into the bushes when they saw we didn’t have any food. We sat down and looked out at the pond, where the ducks were lazing around by the banks, stuffed full of bread crumbs and popcorn.

“So … what’s the rush to get to Guadalupita? I bet you didn’t even know about the place until this afternoon.”

I held my breath, hoping he wouldn’t be annoyed by my nosiness. Though he didn’t answer right away, he showed no sign of anger.

“One of my cousins is ill.” He glanced at me. “Not contagious, but we cannot take her to a hospital.”

“Why not?”

He was silent, frowning at the paper cup in his hands.

“No ID?” I said softly. “The University hospital will admit her, even without it. They have a budget for charity cases—”

“That is not the issue.” He turned the cup in his hands. “The … healer … in Guadalupita knows what to do for her.”

“What, is he some kind of curandero? We have those here, too.”

“Not just any healer will do. He has the skills to help her.”

My turn to frown. I watched him, trying to figure it all out. A money issue? Religion? Too many weirdnesses, too many possibilities. I was trying too hard to guess, and when it came right down to it, this was none of my business.

“OK. So, I pick you up at the bosque. But I can’t drive my car in there.”

“There is a place—a turning of the street—”

“By the entrance to the Nature Center? That’ll work. If I don’t see you I’ll park at the Center.”

“We will be there.”

“It’ll probably be close to noon by the time I get down there.”

Caeran nodded. “We will be waiting.”

“OK.”

I stared at him, not wanting to leave. He was looking at the pond, but after a minute he turned to me with a smile that melted my heart.

“I am grateful for your help, Len.”

“Sure. Glad to. I, uh—I’m sorry your cousin is ill.”

He just smiled. I could have gazed at that forever. His face, so beautifully sculpted—not soft, but just right in all its angles. No heaviness, only classical perfection.

I think, in that moment, I would have done absolutely anything he asked.

Fortunately for me, he was apparently a gentleman. He stood up and shouldered his pack. Hiding my disappointment, I did likewise.

“So, see you tomorrow.” I stuck out my hand.

He took it and raised it to his lips. The brush of that soft warmth on the back of my hand sent a rush straight down to my toes.

“Tomorrow.” Still smiling, he turned and walked away.

I watched him skirt the pond, heading for University and the bus stop, no doubt. With a small groan I sat down again.

I could have offered him a ride. Why did I always think of these things when it was too late?

My fingers touched the back of my hand where he’d kissed me. Still tingled.

I sat there a long while, sipping my tepid latté, thinking back over everything that had happened that afternoon. The healer in Guadalupita was just plain bizarre. How had Caeran been so sure he would find someone there, based on the mention in that book? After probably two hundred years, to find someone with the same name, who was also a curandero … it seemed so weird.

I could rationalize it, sort of. That kind of tradition was often passed down in a family, and small towns in New Mexico didn’t change much through the years.

But man. Caeran had been really lucky to find the guy he wanted, just like that.

Of course, it might not have been as easy as it looked. He’d had that whole list from the day before. Maybe he’d found a phone book, or gone to the public library or something, and gone through that list without finding anything. Maybe.

Guessing too hard again.

I got up and walked to my dorm. Spent the night picking away at my homework, with absolutely no enthusiasm. Went to bed and couldn’t sleep. I lay there thinking about Caeran until exhaustion finally took me out.

 

= 3 =

I was late to my physics class. My least favorite course; the professor was awful. He mumbled and meandered in his lectures, and responded to questions with unconcealed impatience. Consequently, I wasn’t doing great in the class. I almost decided to ditch, except that that would leave me killing time until I went to meet Caeran.

I had my netbook open, ostensibly taking notes, but I soon drifted to looking over the map I had downloaded and saved the night before. There were two possible routes to Guadalupita, one through Santa Fe and winding through the mountains on state highways, the other on I-25, branching off toward Mora at Las Vegas. I decided to take I-25, though the other way was probably a prettier drive. Better to get Caeran’s sick cousin to her curandero as fast as possible.

I was out of my seat the minute class let out. Hustled back to my dorm, grabbed a sweater in case it was cold up north, and jumped in the car. Bought gas, granola bars and a six-pack of bottled water, then indulged in a junk burger and fries on my way down to the Nature Center. Nerves.

Caeran was there, leaning against the fence by the entrance to the bike path, reading a book. I didn’t see anyone else. I pulled the car around and stopped by the curb.

He looked up, then turned toward the bike path and called something I couldn’t make out. Another guy came out of the path, carrying a girl wrapped in a dusty-green cloak. It took me a second to realize he was Caeran’s look-alike, the one I’d met before. Not so surly today; he glanced at me, looking kind of anxious. I went around and opened the door to the Saturn’s back seat, then watched him tenderly place the girl in the car. He turned to me.

“Thank you.”

Caeran joined us. “Len, this is Nathrin, and that is our cousin, Mirali.”

Weird names. I’d have to ask what language they were from. Scandinavian, maybe?

I nodded to Nathrin. “We’ve met, I think.”

“Yes. Forgive my unfriendliness, then. It was my duty to guard our camp.”

I waved a hand in dismissal, then glanced at Mirali. Nathrin had lain her along the back seat. She looked a lot like him and Caeran—the family resemblance was obvious. Same hair, same beautiful features, though her face was a little softer and her chin more pointed. Her eyes were closed; she didn’t look obviously sick, but she didn’t look happy either.

“She’ll have to sit up and fasten her seat belt, I’m afraid. It’s the law. I’ve got a blanket she could use for a pillow.”

Nathrin got Mirali settled while I dug the blanket out of my junk-filled trunk. Good thing they hadn’t brought any luggage. The guys each had a pack, that was it. I put my own pack in the trunk and shoved my wallet in the pocket of my jeans. Tucked the blanket behind Mirali’s head and buckled her in, then got in the driver’s seat. Nathrin sat in the back with her, and Caeran took shotgun.

“Buckle in, everybody. We don’t want to get a ticket.”

I fastened my own seat belt, then helped Caeran with his. I watched in the mirror while Nathrin fumbled with his belt for a moment, then got it fastened.

“Anybody need anything before we head out? Food, bathroom?”

“No,” Caeran said. “Thank you.”

“OK, then. Guadalupita, here we come.”

I drove north on Rio Grande, taking the scenic route through the valley to Alameda. Nobody talked. Glancing in the rearview, I saw Nathrin’s attention fixed on Mirali. Maybe they were a couple.

Caeran was watching the scenery, golden cottonwoods along most of the way. I realized I had deluded myself—I wasn’t going to have any deep conversations with him, not with the other two in the car.

Still, I was with him, side by side, close enough to touch. That was worth it, right? And I was doing him a favor, so maybe he’d be grateful.

Maybe I was nuts.

Well, it was a beautiful day for a drive. Couldn’t beat that. We’d gas up in Las Vegas, take a break at the raspberry farm in Mora.

I glanced in the mirror. Breaks would depend on how well Mirali weathered the ride.

I wondered what was wrong with her. Couldn’t ask—that would definitely be too nosy. Caeran had assured me she wasn’t contagious. Beyond that, it wasn’t any of my business.

I pulled onto I-25 and accelerated. Caeran shifted in his seat and I glanced at him. He was staring ahead, looking tense. Not used to freeway driving, maybe. I turned on the CD, which held a disk I liked to listen to in traffic—mellow guitar music, to keep me from getting to angry with idiot drivers—and turned the volume to low.

“That OK?” I glanced in the mirror. Nathrin looked oblivious.

“Yes,” Caeran said after a second.

I tried to think of a question that might start a conversation, but wouldn’t offend. Came up with nothing for several long minutes. It was Caeran who spoke first.

“This is very pleasant music.”

“Oh, thanks! It’s an Australian guitarist. I really love his stuff.”

“It reminds me of—our music, somewhat.”

“Are you a musician?”

“Merely as a pastime.”

“What do you play?”

“A flute.”

“Classical?”

He glanced at me and I felt a whisper of the tingle his intense look always gave me. “Ancient. It is a style of reed flute created by our people.”

“Oh, cool. I love folk instruments.”

We lapsed into silence. Not wanting to lose the interaction, I blurted the first question I thought of.

“Did you bring your flute with you? I’d love to hear you play.”

“Yes, I have it with me.”

“If I’d known, I would’ve brought my guitar. I’m not that great, but I can play a few songs.”

Caeran didn’t say anything, but I felt his smile. I could guess what he was thinking: that he was glad I hadn’t brought the guitar, glad he wouldn’t have to listen to me trying to play and then say something polite and kind and completely false.

Caeran didn’t like falsehoods, I’d gathered. He wasn’t great at lying—it always seemed to make him uncomfortable. Even the little polite lies that most people uttered without thinking, like the customary phrases of greeting and farewell; conversational pit stops, places where everyone could breathe and regroup. The words might have no literal meaning, except that to Caeran they must have, or why would he keep stumbling over them?

The silence stretched. There was enough traffic on a Friday afternoon between Albuquerque and Santa Fe to keep me plenty busy. Though I wanted to talk more, I decided not to stress out about it. Better to get Zen and just enjoy the moment than to be anxious that it was less than perfect.

Caeran was apparently comfortable with not talking. Nathrin hadn’t participated at all anyway; he was totally absorbed with Mirali. I kept an eye on them in the mirror, not that things changed much in the back seat. I didn’t know if Mirali was asleep, or in pain, or what, but she never opened her eyes.

As we approached Santa Fe I asked again if anyone wanted to stop. Again, Caeran said no, so I stayed on I-25, bypassing the city and striking east through Glorieta Pass. I offered my guests water and granola bars; Caeran and Nathrin both accepted the water and turned down the munchies. Mirali was still out of it.

“Have you spent much time in these mountains?” Caeran asked when we were well into the pass.

“I used to go to summer camp up in the Pecos.” I gestured north, toward the mass of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. “It’s beautiful country.”

“Are there many people there?”

“The towns are pretty tiny, but there are a lot of cabins, especially along the river. People like to fish the Pecos in the summer, and there’s hiking and hunting. There’s a huge wilderness area. I guess you’d say it’s sparsely populated, but there are lots more visitors than residents.”

“Ah.”

“Forget about using your cell phone up there, though. Oh—you don’t have one. Never mind.”

Caeran smiled again, appreciating the joke, however lame. I liked him a lot in that moment. He was generous.

By the time we got to Las Vegas I needed a pit stop. I pulled into a gas station and hustled in to use the bathroom, then came out to pump gas. To my surprise, Caeran was already filling the tank.

“Hey, you didn’t have to do that!”

He shot me an inquiring look. “You suggested we buy the gas.”

“Well, yeah, but you don’t have to pump it.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Well, thanks. Need anything from the store?”

He shook his head. I looked in the back seat window and saw Nathrin holding Mirali’s hand. Her eyes were open, so I opened the door.

“Hi. How are you feeling?”

She gave me a startled deer look. Nathrin answered for her.

“She is somewhat tired.”

“I bet. Traveling’s no fun when you’re sick. You could use the restroom while we’re stopped, if you need to.”

They exchanged a look. I backed out and gently closed the door, leaving them to talk it over. As I straightened I noticed Caeran watching me with the intense look that was becoming familiar. It still made my gut clench, and I couldn’t look away from his eyes. He looked like he was about to say something, then Nathrin’s door opened and he got out, helping Mirali out of the car.

When I turned back to Caeran, he was putting away the gas pump. Moment lost.

I followed the sweethearts into the store. I was restless and craving salt, so I picked out some chips and a soda. Very naughty, especially after the junk burger for lunch. I’d have to exercise more control over the weekend.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I had no idea where I’d be spending the night. I hadn’t brought a change of clothes or a toothbrush or anything. Feeling stupid, I found an overpriced toothbrush and carried it to the counter with my snack. Through the windows I saw Caeran standing by the car, as if he was guarding it. I paid for my stuff, then walked to the back of the store where Nathrin was waiting outside the ladies’ room.

“She OK?” I asked.

He nodded. I went away but stayed in the store, just in case Mirali might need help. I looked at the newspapers, then at the maps. When she came out of the restroom I headed back for the car.1

I got in and opened my chips, indulging in a mouthful of salty decadence. Caeran waited for the others before climbing in.

“Want some?” I offered him the chip bag.

He surprised me by reaching in and carefully extracting a potato chip. I watched him examine it before eating it. Sure looked like he’d never tried one before.

Who was this guy? What planet was he from?

And how could I get there?

Nathrin had Mirali settled again. She sank back into the corner of the seat, looking exhausted by her visit to the store. I gave her a smile but she’d already closed her eyes.

“Seat belts, everyone. Last call for food or drinks.”

It took Nathrin a minute to get himself and Mirali buckled in. I picked out another CD—Deuter’s Land of Enchantment, fairly soothing—and swapped it into the player.

We were making good time, but we were leaving the freeway now so the driving would be slower. Heading northwest toward Mora, we left urban civilization behind and started climbing into the hills and high meadows of north-central New Mexico. The mountains to the west loomed larger, patches of aspen showing in vast, golden splotches against the blue of the evergreens. The air was cooler here. I’d definitely want my sweater later.

Watching the countryside slide by, driving at a slower pace, I began to relax. Caeran listened intently to the music; flute music, and he’d said he played the flute. I waited about halfway through the disc, then on a song he seemed less interested in, I posed a quiet question.

“Do you know if this curandero is planning to put all of us up?”

Caeran looked at me, wearing the frown that meant he was confused. I rephrased.

“If there’s no place for us to stay in Guadalupita, we might have to go back to Las Vegas. No problem, we should be able to get rooms.”

He nodded, apparently trusting me. That gave me a good feeling but it also made me want to laugh.

We reached Mora and I glanced in the mirror. Nathrin was watching Mirali, who was conked out again.

“Anyone like raspberries? There’s a farm we could stop at, if we need a break.”

Nathrin didn’t respond. Caeran answered after a pause.

“Perhaps we should continue. How much farther is it?”

“Probably about half an hour. I brought a map, but it’s in my pack in the trunk. Heck, I need to stop and get it out anyway. I don’t know the number of the highway we’re looking for.”

I pulled over at the raspberry place and hopped out. Raspberry picking season was over or I’d have been more tempted to linger. As it was, I was good and didn’t even step into the store, just got the map and came back.

I showed the map to Caeran. “Here’s the road we need—434. Did we pass a sign that said that?”

“I did not notice.”

I handed him the map and started the car. We drove around a bit and found the road (Mora’s a pretty tiny town, though bigger than where we were headed.)

The sun was dipping toward the mountains. Sunset would be earlier because of them. I felt anxious, which was strange. Maybe the uncertainty of what would happen when we reached our destination was bothering me. Or maybe I was worried my adventure with Caeran would end before it had really begun.

“Hey Caeran?” I kept my voice low, glancing at him for his reactions.

“Yes?”

“Do you date much?”

“Date?” Frowning.

“Are you seeing someone. You know, a girlfriend?”

He was silent for a moment. “Are you asking if I have a lover?”

“Um—well, I was trying to be more subtle than that, but I guess yeah.”

“I do not.”

“Oh.”

I could feel my face burning. I was such a klutz! I tried to think of something else to talk about. Caeran didn’t help, he just sat there brooding. I’d been too nosy, damn it.

“So, how about them Dukes?” I muttered to myself.

Copyright © 2011 by Pati Nagle. All rights reserved.



Immortal series book 1
by Pati Nagle
$4.99 (Novel) ISBN 978-1-61138-057-6

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