Twisted Fate

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Chapter 55

Astrid

“Mommy, can we play a game?”

“As soon as your brothers finish eating.” Loretta walks up behind her youngest pup and presses a kiss on his head.

I hate to admit it, but Carson is the cutest pup I’ve ever seen. One look into his innocent silver eyes and you’re melting. He’s definitely mastered this skill in the future to get what he wants.

Carson smiles and brings his empty plate to the sink to help his mother finish the dishes. Even at seven years old, he has the appetite of a starving beast.

“Ugh!” Kane groans from the small kitchen table, skimming through the pages of a thick book. He’s been working on the same quiz for the last two days. The amazing part is he’s studying a higher grade-level book based on our history. It’s the same material my father gave me when I was training to be alpha. “Mom, my brain is going to explode! I can’t do this anymore.”

Loretta sighs and turns to her pouting middle child, “What’s gonna happen if one day your big brother needs help leading his pack. Blood Rose is growing stronger every day and I wouldn’t be surprised if the pack doubles in a few years. You need to be prepared, sweetie.”

Kane plops his forehead down on the book, exasperated. “I’m not like Arlo. He’s smarter, bigger, faster, and older than me,” He mumbles into the crease of the pages. For a pup this young, he sure stresses a lot. But that’s Kane for you. He’ll pull his hair out if the sun shines the wrong way.

Although he can’t feel my touch, I still lean over in my chair and gently pat him on the back. “Your mom has a point, kid. You might not realize this yet, but you’re actually smarter than Arlo sometimes.” Oh, who am I kidding? Arlo never makes a major decision without discussing it with Kane first. He is the brains of the operation.

“All of my babies are strong and intelligent young men,” Loretta beams, drying off the last of the plates. “Just you wait and see, when Arlo becomes alpha-“

The front door slams shut and for a second, everyone tenses, including me. Though the tension vanishes the minute we hear his familiar raspy, pre-teen voice. He turns his face, and I am the only one who gasps at the purple bruise under his right eye. Everyone in this household has become accustomed to the abuse, so his appearance raises no alarm.

Arlo has grown past this part of his life, but it still hurts to watch. I want to hug him so badly it hurts.

“Who said I wanted to be alpha? I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than be the leader of Blood Rose. Fucking traitors,” Arlo spats, full on dramatic teenager style, as he saunters over to look in the steamy pot.

The spoon Loretta was using to serve his plate drops to the floor. Anger flashes in her eyes. “Who the fuck raised you to speak like that?”

I burst into laughter, along with Kane and Carson. She looks over at her boys, utterly confused by their reaction. She doesn’t even realize the curse word she used just now.

Arlo grins, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek and taking the plate of food from her. “Sorry mom, but it’s true and you know it. They abandoned you when you needed them the most. Shut you out as if you were a stranger off the street. What kind of family does that to their own blood?”

Loretta serves a plate of spaghetti for herself and takes a seat between Arlo and me. As she shifts in her chair, I snap my elbows off the table when her arm accidentally passes through mine.

It’s been a week since the red door reappeared and I have visited almost every day, but the invisibility part still freaks me out. I fear sometimes there would be a glitch in time and I’d stand out like the oddball I am. But this time I am lucky.

Loretta remains unfazed by me and solely focused on Arlo’s hatred for Blood Rose. “Your uncle Nate has promised to pass on all leadership rights to you when you’re ready. I trust he will keep his word.”

Arlo stifles a sigh and sets down his fork. “He’s not really your brother or my uncle, and you know his promise means nothing. We are half demon. We can’t change our genetics; your parents would never allow it. When they banished you, they banished the three of us too.”

Again, his mother is right. If only he would stop being such a pessimist.

You will be the alpha. One of the best.

“My father gave up his right to make decisions for Blood Rose when Nate took his oath. If he chooses to make you alpha, then my father has no say in that matter,” she says. Meanwhile, Kane and Carson watch attentively as the adults talk grown up stuff.

Arlo takes a mouthful of noodles and shrugs, “Whatever.”

Arlo clearly displeased his mother with the attitude. Though instead of causing a fight, she reaches over and smooths the dark curls out of his eyes. “Have

some faith, baby. We’re going to get out of here one day. It might not be today or tomorrow, but this family will persevere. He can’t hold us down forever.”

Arlo keeps his gaze fixed on the plate, blinking back tears. “I hope you’re right,” he muses.

After dinner, the drama has died down, and the little family is in high spirits. Every Thursday, they gather on the living room floor and play a board game before bed. Usually, it would be a movie night, but the TV broke and they can’t afford a new one. This week is Carson’s turn to pick and, of course, he’s chosen his favorite- monopoly.

Carson sticks his tongue out “Ha! You landed on my property, Kane. You owe me $100.”

“No,” Kane argues. “I only owe you $50. Stop trying to cheat or you’ll be disqualified.”

The boys continue to bicker back and forth until Loretta finally cuts in. They play nice after she threatens to end the game and send everyone to bed. Little did we know someone was already planning to ruin their night.

As the dice rolls, Loretta and Arlo snap their focus to the window. Everything stands still and the boys get quiet. Outside the window, red smoke dances with the wind and my heart sinks.

“Time to play a new game,” Arlo mutters. He darts across the board, knocking down all the pieces as he lifts Carson to his feet by the arm. “Remember how we play hide-n-seek?”

Carson frowns. “I don’t want to play hide-n-seek! That game is boring and last time it took you until the next day to find us.”

Loretta hastily picks up the board game while Kane runs to the bedroom. He comes back with blankets, thick jackets and two pairs of shoes. Carson doesn’t make a move to put on the shoes Kane drops at his feet.

“Carson, now is not the time to argue. I need you both to go hide in the woods and stay there until me or mom find you.” Arlo picks up the shoes and shoves them in his hands. When his little brother pouts, his patience snaps. “NOW, Carson!” he growls. This gets him moving.

Everyone moves with panic and fear. Loretta distracts Azazel outside while Arlo rushes his little brothers out into the cold and dark woods through the back door. Kane runs a few feet ahead of them while Arlo clings to a few blankets, water bottles, and Carson’s hand.

At the front of the house, I can hear Azazel yelling at Loretta to let him inside. Arlo leaves his brothers at the edge of the woods. He runs back to the house before Azazel bursts through the front door.

What happens next is something that will haunt me forever. I walk outside of the house when I hear Azazel shouting at Arlo and then the screams of his mother.

The hard times are over now. This isn’t their life anymore.

I try to remind myself, but I feel utterly helpless as I sink to my knees and cry in my hands.

~

The last customer of the day is standing at the front desk while I wrap her items in some wrapping paper and into a paper bag.

I’d be lying If I said that touching a voodoo doll didn’t scare me. But Ms. Hattie swears people don’t always use them for evil. Though that didn’t stop me from carefully picking it up with my fingers and tossing it in the bag like it was a snake that would bite me.

What kind of sane person would use this freakish looking doll for good?

Skillful witches who would wreck your whole life at the snap of their fingers, that’s who.

A fluttery feeling rattles my insides before the door chimes, heavy boots thudding against the wood floor.

“Are you done drowning in paperwork yet, or has Ms. Hattie packed on more torture?” Arlo says, drumming his knuckles on the counter.

I pick up the folder of said paperwork and wave it in the air. “I got done with the torture chamber an hour ago, and by torture chamber I mean the slow ass printer. What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you had an important conference call?”

He waves it off. “Kane took care of it, and I’m too hungry to care. Wanna go for a ride?”

“Do you always dump your responsibilities on Kane, or does he just allow you to boss him around all the time?”

He tilts his head back and forth, contemplating. “Technically it’s our responsibilities, and well, I am the boss.” A sarcastic grin stretches his lips.

“Where are we going?”

“Mexican food and a long drive if you’re up for it.”

“This isn’t a date.” I feel the need to make that clear before an agreement. Even though I’m half hoping he was intending for this to be a date. Who the fuck understands me these days?

“Who the heaven would want to go on a date with you,” he teases. “I was bored, driving around town and thought I’d come rescue you from creepy-vill. But if you’d rather file paperwork with your ghost friends all night…” he trails off and turns to leave.

Spending Friday night at the gift shop? Spending time alone with Arlo? I let him walk to the door before I decide.

“Wait for me outside. I have to tell Ms. Hattie I’m leaving.”

I drop off the paperwork at Ms. Hattie’s desk and she looks up from the computer screen. She’s on the phone, so I whisper about my departure and she smiles, giving me a thumbs up. I make sure to flip the open sign to closed on my way out.

I stand on the sidewalk with wide eyes as the engine roars to life. “You can’t be serious.”

“What?” He deadpans as if I shouldn’t be scared. This man is crazy.

“I’ve never been on a motorcycle before.” But I love to watch you ride one. He looks incredibly sexy just sitting on it with his leather jacket and tight jeans. However, I wouldn’t look sexy at all. My stomach churns and my hands shake wildly as I stare at the beautiful but intimidating motorcycle.

He flashes me a crooked grin and taps the backseat. “Great. I’d love to be your first ride.” I don’t miss the seductive note in his tone. It shoots a searing heat straight down to my core and now I’m thinking about riding him.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. The thought of being so close to him is overpowering the fear of falling off the bike and scraping my flesh against the concrete floor. What a smart girl I am.

When I remain frozen in my spot, he holds up his hands. “I’ll go slow, I promise.” He then pulls out his shades from his pocket and puts them on. If I thought he couldn’t get any sexier, I was so wrong.

Damn him. Damn Arlo Blackburn and his stupid, sexy face.

I swing my leg over the bike and slip on the helmet he gives me. “Slow.” I remind him. “I don’t want to die today.”

“Nothing to worry about, baby.” I try not to let that nickname mean too much to me, but it does.

He called me baby!

Arlo double checks the adjustments on my straps, and I nearly melt when he brushes up against me. Get yourself together, girl.

“Okay, I think I’m ready,” I breathe, nervously rubbing my sweaty palms on my jeans.

A small gasp leaves my lips when he grabs my arms and wraps them around his waist. Oh, God. “Hang on tight and don’t let go,” He instructs. And then we’re off.

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