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By Lisa Kessler, Kerri-Leigh Grady
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2011 Lisa Kessler
All rights reserved.
When they parked at the Mission de Alcala, Kate stared up at the bells. Although she grew up in San Diego, she'd never played tourist and visited this famous landmark, which she admitted now was a shame. The white arched bell tower of the first Spanish mission in the New World stretched toward the heavens, oblivious to the changing landscape around it. For a moment, she felt like she'd been transported back in time.
Edie hefted her camera bag over her shoulder. "Hurry up! We don't want to end up standing for the service."
"I'm coming." Kate ran up the uneven tile steps after her friends.
When they entered the white adobe sanctuary, her breath caught in her throat. The natural pine ceiling arched high above them, voices echoed in the cavernous space, and soft chords from the pipe organ at the rear of the hall floated down. The music washed over the congregation, filling the church with its somber peace.
Her mother would have loved this place.
Lori grabbed Kate's hand and pulled her across the sanctuary to a pew by the opposite door. Candlelight filled the chamber with a warm glow, and soon the only sounds were the soft chants from the priests. Images of Christ's crucifixion lined the walls, and the quiet hymns from the choir added to the poignancy of the Mass. Bittersweet sorrow swelled in her heart. This would be her second holiday season without her parents, and her first without Tom. The Mass felt like a solemn reminder she was alone in the world.
The room blurred behind a wave of tears.
"I need some air. I'll be right outside," Kate whispered to Edie.
Edie gave her an are you all right look, and Kate managed to smile and nod before slipping out the door. As the heavy wooden door clicked shut behind her, she stepped into a lush courtyard with centuries-old adobe crosses rising through thick ferns that threatened to swallow them. More candles flickered around the garden. Shadows moved across the surrounding walls, mingling with the darkness that gathered in the corners and alcoves.
The cool night air filled her lungs, calming the storm brewing inside her. Seeing the families and couples in the sanctuary stirred up heartache. She had erected protective walls around the spaces her parents and her exfiancé used to fill, but now they crumbled. Kate took another deep breath and stared at the pale moon. She could almost hear her mother's voice telling her to stay strong. Keep moving forward.
Just as she'd promised herself she'd do.
Clearing her throat, Kate focused on her surroundings and followed a worn tile path to a weathered sign. The courtyard, and the crosses within it, honored the Native American neophytes who worked at the mission in its early years. Kate scanned the garden again, finding even more of the half-hidden handmade crosses peering at her from a thicket of ferns. Most of them now leaned to the side, weathered from years of exposure to the sun and rain.
The once-strong angles of the markers now drooped as though they wept.
She followed the path deeper into the garden and found another cross nearly engulfed by the foliage and flowers that grew around it. Though the path here was unkempt and the aging monument covered in moss, a simple floral wreath adorned the neck of the cross.
How many Native Americans died at the mission in its early years? She wondered if anyone really knew. She learned about the missions in elementary school, but her teachers never discussed the relationship between the missionaries and the local tribes. Was neophyte a fancy word for slave? She didn't know, but whatever their role might have been, it was encouraging to see the indigenous people who had lived at the mission had not been forgotten.
When the service concluded, the murmur of soft conversation broke through her solitude. Mass was over already? Kate frowned. How long had she been outside?
Car engines started and brakes squeaked, the headlights drowning out the candlelit shadows. Beyond the black wrought iron gates, small groups of people departed together until finally the floodlights over the parking lot blinked off. She would have worried about Lori and Edie's absence, but she knew they had plans with their digital cameras after the mass.
According to her friends, Dia de los Muertos was the perfect night for ghost hunting. Lori and Edie always enjoyed ghost stories when they were kids, and their fondness grew until they considered themselves amateur paranormal investigators. What better place to find them than in the oldest building in San Diego on the one night a year reserved for the dead?
Kate didn't share their zeal for spirits, but she had no problem waiting for them to have their fun. She was happy to have a few minutes to herself anyway.
The candlelight glimmered around her, the flickering flames left to burn out sometime before morning. The warm glow made for eerie light, casting long shadows of the weeping crosses over the garden. It was exquisite and melancholy in the same moment.
She caught a sudden chill. The longer she lingered, the more her sadness mutated into unease.
The back of her neck prickled. Kate crossed her arms and walked toward the sanctuary doors. She suddenly felt exposed and alone. Before she reached the doors, Lori and Edie came up the path at the other end of the courtyard, snapping pictures as they walked, until Lori disappeared from view.
When Edie saw Kate approach, she grinned. "Oh, you should see some of the great shots we got tonight. We had lots of orbs in a couple of pictures of the bell tower. There might be even more when we can look at them on a larger screen."
"You'll have to show me once you get them on the computer." Kate glanced around the courtyard. "Where'd Lori go?"
Edie turned around. "She was right behind ..."
"Edie ... Kate." Lori's voice, a loud and insistent whisper, emanated from the shadows.
Kate flinched when she heard her name. She had no idea why she was so jumpy tonight. They tracked down Lori and found her kneeling by one of the crosses. She beckoned them closer.
Edie rushed over with an eager grin, camera at the ready. "Wow. Look at this." She squatted beside Lori.
The cross was smaller than most of the others, weather-beaten and canted. There was a single letter in the center, a T, and a single candle burned beside a bundle of large white blossoms.
"Who do you think left those?" Lori whispered.
Kate shrugged. None of the other crosses had fresh offerings. "Probably the priests, right?"
"I don't know." Lori glanced at the other crosses. "Maybe this person's relatives still visit every year."
"Can you imagine?" Edie whispered. "Being remembered like that? I hope someone's still bringing me flowers after I've been dead a couple hundred years."
Kate thought about correcting them, telling them these crosses were memorials to the Native Americans. But she didn't. Something about the cross held her rapt. The conversation around her faded away as Kate moved in closer to the fragrant blossoms.
She'd never seen flowers like these with huge, beautiful blooms of white, silky petals and a center like pure sunshine. And the scent. It was the primrose-like perfume that made her reach out to touch them, entranced by their spell.
Had she seen these flowers before?
"Kate? Are you okay?"
Kate looked up at Lori, her brow furrowed and mouth pinched in concern. "I'm fine," she said, yanking her hand away from the flowers. "Just a little tired, I guess."
"We're almost done. We need a couple more pictures around the front by the steps," Edie said.
"All right." Kate straightened, still unable to pull her attention away from the cross and its bouquet. "I'll wait for you here, okay?"
Lori continued to frown, but Edie said, "No problem. We'll be right back."
Kate watched them wander off before kneeling closer to the cross. Unable to stop herself, she traced her finger along the T in the center.
Behind her, someone cleared his throat. Kate jerked her hand away and shot to her feet. When she turned around she found a tall, dark-haired man staring at her.
Her cheeks flushed with heat. She hoped he hadn't witnessed her touching the relic. She waited for some kind of admonishment, but he didn't say anything.
Not with words.
Something in his dark eyes captured her. His gaze wandered over her face like a tender caress, and strangely, instead of screaming for Lori and Edie, she caught herself imagining his touch on her skin.
"I hope I did not frighten you," he said.
His deep voice resonated through the empty courtyard, and the intimate tone weakened her knees. The hint of a Spanish accent didn't hurt, either. Nervous laughter escaped her before she could contain it.
Her face warmed all over again. "Just a little startled. I didn't see anyone else out here."
He stepped closer without encroaching on her personal space, his eyes locked with hers from beneath thick lashes. "Forgive me."
She swallowed hard and prayed she wasn't blushing. "No problem." She looked away before she embarrassed herself even further, focusing on the cross. "It's beautiful isn't it?"
"Si." He nodded slowly. "Yes, it is." His barely there smile made her think he wasn't referring to the flowers or the cross. "I am Calisto. Calisto Terana."
Expectation hung as heavy as the scent of eucalyptus, as if he waited to hear something more than just her name.
"I'm Kate." Instead of offering to shake his hand, she tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "It's nice to meet you."
"The honor is mine, Kate ..." His accent colored the vowel in her name. It had never sounded more beautiful. She reminded herself to breathe.
When he hesitated for a moment waiting for her to speak, she realized she hadn't shared her last name as he had. She flipped through a rapid pro and con mental checklist, and decided it couldn't hurt. Maybe they would meet again.
"Bradley," she said.
A sexy smile curved at the corners of his lips. "I hope this will not be our last meeting."
She glanced around the shadowed courtyard, feeling vulnerable, and almost gave in to her first instinct — to run. But she remembered her promise to herself. Be strong. Take action. She lifted her chin and said, "I guess you never know."
With a smile that said he had every intention of seeing her again, he tipped his head. "Buenos noches, Kate Bradley."
Her heart raced and her palms sweated when she realized he meant to leave. No man made her palms sweat. Ever.
His gaze held hers for a moment, full of unspoken promises she didn't understand. Without another word, he walked away.
Kate willed him to turn toward her one last time. It would be easy to get addicted to the way his gaze caressed her, entrancing her with his full attention. She wet her lips and shook her head slowly, struggling to break the spell.
A strange man had flirted with her in a dark courtyard. Hello!Huge danger signal for a woman alone.
But she never felt threatened. As if she'd met him before.
"Who was that?" Lori tucked her camera inside her bag.
"He said his name was Calisto Terana."
"He looked sexy from where I stood. Yum!" Edie grinned.
Lori nudged her with her elbow. "Looks can be deceiving. Why was he loitering after Mass and hitting on Kate?"
There went Lori, being overprotective, like Kate was her younger sister instead of a peer. Kate rolled her eyes. "He wasn't hitting on me. He was a complete gentleman." She paused, glancing in the direction he'd gone. "Old fashioned."
Lori hooked her camera bag over her shoulder. "You didn't give him your number, did you? Old fashioned or not, you don't know anything about this guy."
"Yes, Mom! I've been a single adult just as long as you have, remember?"
Lori hooked her arm through Kate's. "I still worry about you. You've been through a lot lately. I don't want anyone to take advantage of you."
Kate relaxed, though she still chafed at being treated like a child. "Believe me, I don't want that either."
Part of her was shocked she even considered looking at another man. A couple of weeks ago she wanted to wipe all the bastards off the face of the earth, and then tonight a gorgeous guy with an accent and a healthy dose of manners suddenly had her heart racing. Go figure.
They started toward the car. Kate peeked over her shoulder, wondering where Calisto had gone. No doubt it was for the best that he walked away when he did.
But secretly she wished he had asked for her number.
Edie unlocked the car. "What kind of name is Calisto anyway? It doesn't sound Mexican."
"Maybe Spanish?" Lori said.
Kate replayed the way he said her name. "He did have an accent. Not quite Mexican though. Maybe he is from Spain."
"Oh, I love accents." Edie pretended to shiver. "Why don't I ever meet handsome foreign men in dark courtyards?"
"Get in the car already." Lori smiled.
Their banter continued as Lori pulled out of the mission's parking lot toward Old Town, but Kate wasn't listening anymore. At the other end of the lot she saw him standing in the moonlight.
He stared right into her eyes. Even at this distance, the heat of his gaze flushed her skin, and her breath caught in her throat.
What if she never saw him again? A knot of panic tightened in her stomach.
He watched them roll down the driveway, bowing his head before turning to walk back into the shadows. Kate sighed and finally faced forward, chastising herself for acting like a love-struck teenager. The last thing she needed right now was a relationship. She'd just been burned so badly that she took a leave of absence from her teaching job and left the state of Nevada.
How could she stomach even looking at another man?
She stared out the window and smiled in spite of herself. Calisto didn't seem like any other man she'd ever met. Against her better judgment, she caught herself hoping they would meet again.
* * *
She was dead.
Part of him still could not, or would not, believe it. Even now as he covered her body with dirt, he imagined this was a foul dream. Still clothed in his missionary robes, Father Gregorio Salvador prayed he would awaken to the sound of her laughter, or see her dark eyes sparkle with shared humor again. Tala had the most beautiful dark brown eyes with a tiny hazel crescent at the bottom of her right iris.
She used to smile at him every time he told her she had the moon in her eyes.
His jaw clenched. He would have his vengeance.
As he laid the bundle of large, white Romneya flowers over her grave, his tears fell onto the freshly turned soil covering her body, like raindrops darkening the sandy dirt. The sight brought him to his knees.
He knelt at her grave, silently begging the God he once served for answers. Was it wrong to love her? Was God so unforgiving of their sin that He sought to take her life and damn his soul? They had hurt no one. He had broken his covenant with God, yet she was forced to pay his penance with her life? Why punish her?
But he already knew. What greater punishment could he suffer than to go on living without her? He was certain no deeper pain existed.
Surely God knew he had been no more than a naive boy when he took his vows in Spain.
He buried Tala at the edge of the cliff where they met in secret during the warm summer evenings to watch the sun set over the water and color the sky. He hoped her soul would find peace there. Taking the rosary beads from his neck, he laid them over the flowers covering her final resting place. He would never touch another rosary. God had forsaken him, punished him for loving her, and he wouldn't serve Him any longer.
Kissing his fingertips and touching the flowers, he whispered, "My love forever."
He tugged at his collar, and then stripped off his robe. Clothed only in his black wool pants and sandals, Father Salvador walked into the darkness of the hills. He couldn't bear to look back.
* * *
Calisto watched her until the car faded away into the night. The Old One's promise had finally come true. With his heightened vision, he had seen the lighter crescent of color in the lower corner of her iris. He recognized her in an instant. She had the moon in her eyes.
Tala, his love, lived again.
Her features were familiar, but not exactly as she had once been. Her skin was lighter now and the angle of her jaw softer, but her long black hair and her eyes had not changed. Hearing her voice, seeing her smile, brought back memories of a life they once shared.
The sound of her laughter was like a burst of sunlight in his endless night.
Excerpted from Night Walker by Lisa Kessler, Kerri-Leigh Grady. Copyright © 2011 Lisa Kessler. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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