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Rafe has a special place in my heart, that irresistible mixture of wounded soul and noble spirit. And a friend of mine had a grandmother who was a curandera, which I found fascinating, so I just had to write a story featuring one! Here’s an excerpt:
In the distance, she saw a big man on an Appaloosa stallion, the two strong and sure and beautiful in the crisp morning light. Mesmerized, she hadn’t realized how still she’d become until she jolted when the old woman spoke.
“On horseback, Rafael forgets the ghosts that haunt him. When he rides is the only time he is whole and young again.”
Rafael? The caretaker Rafe? Is that what he told you? she remembered the old woman asking. Who was this man who fixed pipes, who studied herbal medicine, who rode as though born to it?
“Mrs. Sandoval,” she began.
Diana nodded. “Rosaria, what did you mean? He said he was the caretaker. They told me there would be—”
Rosaria smiled. “Did he say those words or did he simply let you believe them?”
She’d been made a fool. “What do you mean?”
The small brown hand came to rest on her shoulder and once again, Diana felt the unusual warmth and comfort. “The cabin belongs to Rafael, as does the land bordering mine. On occasion he leases the cabin, More often, it shelters friends in need of retreat.”
She’d ordered him around and tried to give him a tip last night, then wondered at his brusque refusal. Her cheeks burned. “Why didn’t he tell me?”
The ancient hand soothed up and down her arm. “My grandson has his own battles to fight.”
“What kind of battles?” As soon as she said it, Diana knew the man she’d met wouldn’t appreciate her prying.
“He almost died, but he would not let death take him.” Sharp, proud eyes turned to hers. “Rafael was in the Special Forces.”
“Special Forces? But they’re—” Warriors, she thought. Deadly ones. She tried to picture the man she’d met as a warrior and found that she had little trouble.
“He is retired now, after a serious injury. They said he would never walk again, but my Rafael has always been proud and stubborn. He proved them wrong.”
The limp. Diana remembered now the faint limp that had seemed so out of place in the tall, striking man. She’d been too tired to notice much, but she remembered his unusual light eyes, so at odds with the black hair and sharp-bladed, copper-skinned face. “How did he get those eyes?” she mused, unaware that she’d said the words aloud.
“Rafael is half Anglo on his mother’s side. It has always been a battle for both him and his brother Alejandro—this feeling of being caught in two worlds.” Then she frowned. “He helps me with my patients, but he does not yet believe in the role he will play.”
Patients? Diana was just about to ask more, when the hoofbeats grew louder, commanding her attention.
With the previous night’s exhaustion now vanquished, Diana took a new look at him as he dismounted and tied the reins to Rosaria’s fence. He stood several inches taller than her, slightly too gaunt for his big frame, deep lines carved in a face suited to a painting of Aztec warriors standing their ground against invading conquistadors. He even had the long black hair.
The only thing that didn’t match was those eyes—not gray, not blue, so light they seemed to see more deeply than most. The eyes of a mage, of a sorcerer, irises banded by a dark ring, framed by heavy brows and sooty, thick lashes.
“Good morning, m’ijito,” the old woman said. “Did you come for breakfast?”
Diana snapped out of thoughts she could only call fanciful, totally uncharacteristic of her.
Rafe met her gaze, his own scrutiny intense and unwelcome. Then he turned to his grandmother, his harsh features breaking into a smile of deep affection. “If I had, I’d be at least two hours late, wouldn’t I?”
Rosaria smiled. “Another meal would not hurt you. You need more meat on your bones.”
“You’d feed me until I looked like Dulcita.” He grinned, turning to Diana. “I see you and my grandmother have met already.”
“She was—” Diana gestured toward the garden. “She showed me her plants.”
“Diana is a good audience for an old woman’s chattering,” Rosaria said. “We are about to have tea. Would you like to join us?”
“I should go,” Diana interjected. “I need to finish my run.”
“Perhaps you should not try it again so soon after losing your balance,” Rosaria murmured.
The pale eyes sharpened on her. “You were running?”
She didn’t like his tone. “I’ve run every morning for years. I know what I’m doing.”
“You got light-headed, right?”
She shrugged. “After my accident, I had to stop until recently. I’ll get back in shape soon.” Not that it’s any of your business, she didn’t add.
“You’re here from Dallas?”
“You’ve come nearly five thousand feet in altitude. Give your body a chance to acclimatize before you try running again.”
“How long?” Good grief. She should have thought of that herself.
“Ease up the rest of the week. Walk instead of run, drink plenty of water and rest more often. By the weekend, your body should have adjusted, but work up to your normal running distance in stages for another few days after that.”
To deny his expertise would be uncharitable. “I guess you learn about physical conditioning in the Special Forces.”
His gaze shot to his grandmother’s. “Someone’s been talking out of school.”
Rosaria only smiled serenely, placing one hand on his arm. “My Rafael es un médico. He cared for all the members of his team.”
“Médico? You were a medic?”
Rafael nodded and looked away, a muscle in his jaw jumping.
“My grandson is a healer, just as I am.”
Diana frowned. “Are there no doctors nearby?”
Rosaria shook her head. “The nearest medical facility is one hundred thirty-five miles away.”
“What sort of equipment do you have?” she asked him.
Rosaria answered first. “Our ways do not require medical instruments or machines.”
“But how can you possibly—”
“Abuelita—” He intervened, respect and affection softening his tone. “Dr. Morgan said she must go.”
Rosaria’s gaze took in her grandson’s obvious discomfort. Shaking her head, she lifted wise eyes to Diana. “If you will wait a moment, I will bring you the tea we discussed. Please avoid caffeine and drink it, instead.” She aimed a pointed glance at Diana’s hand. “It will be a good first step on your road to healing.” After a gentle pat on Diana’s shoulder, she turned toward her house.
With her went all warmth. Rafe shifted his weight, and Diana remembered his injury.
“Would you like to sit down?”
“No.” He crossed his arms over his chest. Silence clogged the air around them.
“You don’t have to wait with me,” she said. I’m sure you’re very busy—”
He didn’t let her finish. “My grandmother has delivered babies, healed the sick, comforted the dying for many years before I was born. The people here respect her and love her. What she does may not conform to the training either of us received, but it works for them. They are not stupid or ignorant, only poor. She is not a quack. Whatever your opinion of the medical value of what she does,” he said, “I would appreciate it if you would use some restraint in letting your cynicism show. She has no bias against doctors and often refers patients when needed, but most of them cannot pay for expensive medical care. Her way is ancient and honored, no matter that you believe it to be primitive.” His jaw flexed again. “The scalpel, Dr. Morgan, does not cure all ills.”
That stung. “I meant no disrespect to your grandmother. I think she’s a very kind and compassionate woman.”
“But?” he challenged. “Misguided? Ignorant of proper medical treatment?”
His anger had claws. He was a stranger, and his contempt dug deep into raw, vulnerable flesh. For a few moments, drifting in the lazy morning sun with Rosaria, she’d let her guard down. Forgotten that she belonged nowhere, that her life was a shambles. Now she had the awful, unthinkable urge to cry.
No one made Diana Morgan cry.
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