Twisted Fate

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Chapter 51.5

Astrid

“Excuse me,” Loretta Blackburn flags down the bartender as he finishes wiping down the counter. She offers him an apologetic look when he stands in front of her. “Could I possibly trade this for a pina colada? I’m not really feeling beer tonight.” She peers up at the gentleman and puts on her brightest smile. She’s lying, of course. The second that beer swashed inside her mouth, her face twisted into a grimace, and she spit the liquid back into the mug.

His brow creases as he looks down at the beer and then back at her suspiciously. He doesn’t know it’s her first-time trying alcohol. Or that she’s wanted those bright pink shoes on her feet for a while and had finally received them as a gift from my mother on her sixteenth birthday. I remember my mother’s smile as she found the old photograph of that exact memory.

“I’m so sorry for the trouble. I will pay for the waste,” she promises. Her charm seems to work because the bartender raises no complaint. He just throws his rag over his shoulder and turns to make her drink.

It’s now that I realize how awkward I must look, watching Loretta’s every move from afar. I’m utterly surprised no one has called me out for my pervy outlook. The nearest table is vacant, so I pull out a chair and take a seat to observe more privately. And then something occurs to me…

I look over my shoulder and try to get the nearest person’s attention. An old man who wears a red cap over his eyes and slumped over the table with a bottle in his hand. I lean over to poke him, but he interrupts me with an obnoxious snore. My first thought is he’s too damn old to be this drunk. But hey, each to his own.

“Sir,” I try again. When he doesn’t answer, I finally reach over to nudge his arm, my hand passing through him like a computerized glitch. Theory confirmed: I’m invisible here.

Loretta Blackburn is sitting a few feet away from me. Loretta freakin’ Blackburn. As in the she-wolf, my mother once spent her days and shared secrets with. The she-wolf who deliberately left her pack (one that would make her alpha) to mate with a demon. The she-wolf who birthed my mate.

This can’t be real. I place my hands on the table and let my palms brush the cold wood. My shoes scrape against the floor and when that’s not enough, I pinch my right arm. Yup. This is really happening. Not dreaming.

The bartender sets down a tall, white glass with a pineapple on the rim. He waves her off as she reaches to pull out some cash “Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. One of these rich assholes can pick up the tab.” He winks, and then she’s alone again. This time she smiles and moans a little in content when her lips take the swirly pink straw. It isn’t long before she’s ordering another.

Loretta and I have one thing in common. We’re both people watchers at social places. She watches the group of white collars sitting at a booth as they laugh and talk about their perfect jobs, perfect wives, perfect children, and perfect mistresses. She watches the few flirtatious women, who smile seductively and purposely make their cleavage visible, hoping to receive a few free drinks in return for the show. She also watches the lean and muscular bartender with curious eyes.

And well… I’m watching her sit at the bar. Why am I here?

Loretta fidgets with the locket hanging from her neck and frowns. She’s been doing that all night. Frowning, I mean. There’s no telling what she could possibly be upset about. When you’re sixteen, any little inconvenience can make you feel like the world is crashing down on you.

An hour passes before the bartender makes the last call, and the bar is now crowded with people. Loretta shits uncomfortably on the stool, but not for the cause of claustrophobia. Our heads turn simultaneously, looking out of the window. Waiting for something.

I’m not exactly sure the moment I felt it. This unease that prickled my skin and settled in the pit of my stomach. You know that feeling you get when something bad is about to happen, but you can’t identify the source. Until I see himdressed in a black business suit walking by the window. My breath catches in my throat, and I don’t know whether to scream or faint. I do neither, my body remains unresponsive.

How did I not see this coming?

I watch the exact moment it happens, the moment he looks up into her captivating silver eyes and decides to ruin her life. He can’t look away, so she does it for him. It’s too late, though. Her striking features have already compelled him to stop dead in his tracks. Ten seconds later, he’s walking into the bar. Her head snaps up at the scraping of the vacant stool beside hers.

“You lost, demon?” Loretta growls as low as possible, careful not to attract the ears of the humans.

Azazel glances at her and shrugs his expensive coat off. “Are you lost, pup?” He retorts.

“I’m not a pup,” she snaps. “Why are you sitting next to me?”

He cranes his neck in different directions. “Is this seat taken?”

“Well, no, but- “

“Then I don’t see the problem with me sitting here,” Azazel shrugs. The bartender picks this moment to serve him. He drops some cash on the counter as he shoots out his order. Soon the bartender is back with a bottle and a few glasses to keep him satisfied for a while.

Her eyes flash with irritation. “I don’t want you to sit next to me. I don’t take well to your kind. Disgusting creatures.”

He raises a glass and licks the trace of liquor off his lips. His smile, arrogant and brooding. “If you have a problem with me, then you should leave. I am a paying customer just like you and I’d like to sit at the bar.” He leans in closer to her face and mutters, “Or maybe I should tell the bartender about your little secret. I’m sure he’d be pleased to know that he’s been selling to a minor.”

Loretta presses her lips into a thin line, her nostrils flaring. His dark eyes flash a deep red as they fall on her lips and then down to her chest. She tries to remain confident, though she shifts nervously under his scrutinizing gaze and flushes a deep red.

“Fine,” she grits through clenched teeth and faces forward, “but keep to your own business.”

Azazel grins, flashing the tips of his razor teeth. It makes me shiver. “You won’t even know I’m here.”

It’s a promise he doesn’t keep because he’s aware of her the entire time and he does everything to make his presence known, setting the shot glasses down loudly, brushing her arm, and making small talk with the bartender. He does everything in his power to make her notice him, and eventually it works.

“Why are you here?”

“Excuse me?”

She glances over at the busy bartender and watches him for a moment. Once she’s convinced he’s too busy to pay attention, she says, “I got my fake ID three months ago and I come to this bar a lot. I’ve never seen anyone… strangecome here.” He chuckles, a deep melodic sound at her code word, and I have to look away because it reminds me so much of Arlo.

The conversation between them flows so smoothly, it’s like they’ve known each other their entire lives. Neither of them realizes its 2am until the lights come on and the bar clears out. The demon prince uses his mind control to keep the bar open for just the two of them, and the bartender is no longer himself, but a puppet for his demon power.

Azazel attentively listens to her talk about the Blood Rose pack, studies, and her parents, which is why she’s been upset this entire night. “My father thinks I am incapable of leading my pack. He wants my older brother to claim the title, even though he’s adopted. It’s so unfair. Everyone knows the alpha should come from the bloodline,” she grumbles, resting her chin on her fist.

“You’d be shocked of all the crimes I’ve committed to please my father. The things we do to be accepted by our blood,” Azazel muses.

It’s way past the early hours of the morning when I follow their clumsy steps outside. Azazel swings his arm around her neck and holds her close. They’re both too drunk to walk a straight line. I feel disgusted as he looks down at her with lust shimmering in his red eyes and places his free hand on her hip. For fuck sakes! She’s only sixteen, meaning- SHE IS STILL A PUP!

“Thanks for listening to me vent all night. My names Loretta,” she offers her hand and to her it is kind and innocent. She doesn’t know the lifelong deal that is made behind that one gesture.

Don’t do it, Loretta!

As fast as that thought appears, it vanishes. Because without this moment I wouldn’t have met Arlo. I’m grateful for their coincidental meeting, even though Azazel is an evil bastard. Selfish, isn’t it?

You’re happy about this monster trapping this she-wolf in a loveless relationship when you’ll never accept her son as a mate.

He leans down and accepts her hand, placing a kiss on top. “I am Azazel, prince of Zaltamia.” Her brow creases. She doesn’t understand what that means yet and-

Holy fuck! Does that mean Arlo is a prince?

The scene changes before I have a chance to dissect my thoughts. Loretta and Azazel meet at the bar every week on the same day at ten o’clock. Soon that day stretches to everyday, and their relationship slowly becomes more than platonic. I watch her fall in love while he falls in lust.

I blink once and she’s sneaking out of the pack more often. I blink twice and she’s seven months pregnant and officially banished from her pack. I blink again and Arlo is born. Something twisted snaps inside Azazel when he looks down at his son for the first time. He disappears for a couple of months, leaving a stressed Loretta to do it all on her own.

I watch Arlo take his first steps and say his first word- mama. My hands itch to hold him. His favorite things include stroking the grey fur of the stray cat, laughing at his mother’s silly faces, playing hide n’ seek, and falling asleep to his mother’s voice. He’s perfect. The saddest part- Azazel comes and goes, never taking a second to admire these precious moments.

Arlo is five years old when Azazel slaps him hard across the face for being too sensitive. Five years old

His watered eyes and flushed little face shatter my heart. He doesn’t understand what he’s done wrong. He’s done nothing wrong. All he wanted was love and affection, and his father became annoyed. What kind of father slaps their own pup for seeking love? Now I’m enraged, along with Loretta. But it’s also the first time Azazel beats her senseless for daring to stand up to him.

Luckily, this portal to the past shows me no more. And I’m grateful because I’ve seen enough for today. The current scene fades out, and with a heavy heart, I walk straight through the darkness back to the red door.

Ms. Hattie and Nicolas haven’t moved an inch.

“Are you alright? What happened? Did the further ones say anything to you?” Nicolas fires questions. My back presses firmly against the door and I cross my arms. “What did you see?”

I wipe away the single tear rolling down my cheek. “More than I was prepared for.”

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