Ms. Hattie is grinning from ear to ear and beaming with excitement as her float makes the grand entrance to the parade. I’m sitting in a lawn chair next to Kane in front of the gift shop when she rounds the street corner, the crowd waving and shouting their approval.
“How come you’re not out there shaking some werewolf tail?” I tease Kane, but his face remains expressionless. Out of the Blackburn trio, he’s the most serious brother, rarely cracking jokes or smiling. I think I’ve only heard him really laugh once when Carson tripped face-first into the mud. It was pretty hilarious, though. I’d nearly peed my pants from laughing so hard.
He blows the steam away from his hot chocolate and sips it slowly. “Not my thing.” He says, lips into a thin line. Last week at the coven meeting, he all but jumped up and screamed he wasn’t taking part in the parade. He took it upon himself to sit out so the others could enjoy the “full experience.” I know how Ms. Hattie runs her shop and Kane is allergic to fun- hence our dynamic duo.
Kane searches through his back pocket and pulls out his phone. “Check these hotties out.” He nods towards the pack float approaching. We spent all day and night decorating that float and I’m proud of it. I’m laughing the entire time Kane and I snap pictures of the wolves. I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to capture this perfect moment forever. In fact, I’m framing it as soon as we get back home.
We dressed the pack up as werewolves (my brilliant idea) for the parade. They’re all wearing gray pointy ears, oversized paws, and long tails with their faces painted by me. Arlo and Carson are in the crowd passing out candy, their furry tails bouncing as they rush out to the crowd of children. The others are playing music and dancing on the float. My friends are waving and flipping me off as I get closer to take their picture. I snicker and find my way back to my seat when Nicole chases me away. They look absolutely ridiculous, and I love it!
I’m giggling and making faces at my friends when my heart somersaults inside my chest. Arlo spots me in the crowd and jogs over to the end of the street. He kisses me on the cheek and tosses me a piece of candy. “You’re the cutest one I’ve seen all day.” He wraps his arms around my waist, the spice of his cologne filling my nostrils.
My wolf takes over me, and I stand on my tiptoes to kiss him. She’s been bugging me about my lack of affection towards our mate, so for now I’ll let her have some time. She needs his touch like she needs to breathe. He seems surprised by my actions for a moment, but it doesn’t take him long to kiss me back. I don’t know what’s going to happen when all this is over, but I know my feelings grow stronger for him each day. Every day is a constant battle between my mind and heart.
Kane looks over at us with a smirk, making me feel self-conscious. I’m not comfortable with my wolves seeing us intimately together, so I pull away and leave him standing there alone. They’ll freak out and start doubting my loyalty to the pack. I don’t need them asking me questions I don’t have answers to.
You don’t want them to know you’re falling deep. So, so deep.
It’s Tuesday morning when I walk into the gift shop and greeted by a smiling Blair. I stand in the doorway, gaping at her for a few minutes before I run up to her with open arms. “When did you guys get back in town?”
“Early this morning. I was going to come say hi, but you were still asleep,” she says.
I do a quick scan of her from head to toe. She looks nothing like the witch I was bathing and spoon feeding a few weeks ago. When Louisa had mentioned that they’d be out of town for two weeks, I assumed shit got worse for Blair. But here, she is looking as healthy as a horse.
“What the hell happened to you?” I frown at the memory of her previous state. I never want to see my friend broken like that. Ever again.
She sets her pen and paperwork aside. The shine of her wedding ring brings my attention to her hands. Even her skin complexation looks more vibrant and livelier. “I spent some time in a treatment facility in Rhode Island. They taught me some exercises for the pain and helped me learn to control the visions.”
Did she just say… “Visions?”
She shrugs. “Guess my mom isn’t the only smarty pants now.” She tells me all about her experience at the treatment facility that specializes in seers. How did I not figure this out sooner? Of course, Blair’s power has evolved. She reminds me so much of her mother, it only makes sense that she takes after that powerful witch. The Rosales women are a forced to be reckoned with.
I scowl and point a finger at her. “You’re not allowed to scare me like that ever again. And you can have your stupidjob back. I’m gonna throw up if Nicolas
forces me to put another dead frog in a boiling pot again.” She laughs, taking a big sip of her coffee. “It feels so good to be home.”
I give her another hug before I start helping in the shop. Now that Blair is back, there isn’t much work for me to do anymore. I finish sweeping the floors and call on my way out. “Text me if you need any more help.”
“We both know why you came here, and it wasn’t to play cinderella with the broom,” she sarcastically waves the colorful spreadsheet towards me. I softly shut the door and turn around to face her. One look and I know I’ve been caught. Shit. “How long have you been going through that portal? Does he know that you know about his father?”
Well, there’s no point in lying now. She’ll see right through my bullshit. “A few weeks.” I say awkwardly.
“And?” She obviously knows the answer, but she wants me to admit it to her face. I roll my eyes.
“I don’t understand what the big deal is. So what! His father is a demon prince. It doesn’t change that fact that we’re mates, and I want to know everything.” The sad part is I’ve learned more about Arlo visiting the red door than I have speaking to him. He’s so closed off about his past. One mention of Loretta nearly sends him into a breakdown. Although I can’t really blame him too much. If I had to grow up with an abusive father like Azazel, then I’d shove all those tragic memories deep into a box and dump them in the ocean.
“Big deal,” she says with disbelief. “And how do you think the lycanthrope council would handle that information if the truth came out? It’s bad enough he is a hybrid, but do you honestly think they would let him live freely if they knew of his royal origins? They would lock him up and throw away the damn key. Don’t you understand? He is trying to protect himself and his brothers. No one knows the truth about their father because it is not safe.”
My mother once said something like that to me. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, she tried to play it off. Loretta shared that secret with her because she knew my mother would never betray their friendship. She trusted my mom with her life and it kinda stings to know that Arlo doesn’t trust me the same way.
“I care about him more than anything in this world.” It feels strange to admit my feelings out loud, but I swear on my life it is the truth. Even Blair seems a little shocked that I’ve said it aloud. “I would never tell a soul.”
Blair shakes her head. “This isn’t about loyalty, Astrid. Arlo knows he can trust you, but that knowledge comes with consequences. Believe me, the less you know about Azazel, the better.”
With a loud sigh, I slump down on the purple bean bag chair I’ve claimed as mine. “Well, for someone who shouldn’t know of his existence, he sure keeps making surprise visits. Especially in my nightmares. It’s bad enough I’ve had to deal with a magic red door. But now I’m getting casual visits from the bitch who wants me dead and my mate’s father.”
“Whoa, back up,” she stands to her feet, “You saw Cassandra?”
“She appeared like freakin’ Houdini in my bathroom mirror last week. I think she was using astral projection. I’m not really sure.”
“You might be right. Astral projecting is the only way she could communicate with you without crossing into Salem,” Blair agrees. “What did she say to you?”
“I want to kill you blah, blah, blah.”
Blair contemplates for a moment, crossing her arms. “I never thought about using astral projection. It’ll be a little tricky, but we may be able to find out where she’s hiding.”
The last thing I want to do is magically communicate with this psycho but if it finds her, so be it. “And you’re sure we’ll find her this way?”
Blair chews on her bottom lip, mentally planning. “No, but I’m hoping we can reverse the spell to our benefit.” I rest my elbows on my knees with my head in my hands, overwhelmed.
“I feel like I’m going crazy here, Blair. When will all of this end?”
A car door slams outside, followed by multiple footsteps. One of those belongs to the loud steps of Arlo’s steel boots. I can hear that he’s talking to someone. Blair comes over and places a supportive hand on my shoulder. “Sometimes the evil energy will follow you out of the devil’s door and make you see things that aren’t really there. Azazel has been dead for a long time now. He’s done enough damage in the world. Don’t let him haunt you too, okay?”
I gulp. Why Azazel came back from the fiery pit of hell to torment me with his ghostly presence is beyond me. I don't even like watching scary movies because they give me the creeps, and now I'm staring in my own horror show. “How did he die?”
Blair gives me a side look as Arlo opens the entrance door. “How do you think?” she whispers discreetly, and I understand what she’s trying to say. I always wished in the end something bad happened to Azazel. Maybe his family punished him for causing so much chaos with the Blackburn family. Or that the Lycan council secretly captured him and kept him locked up in their dungeon of secrets. My whole life, people believed many different things. Mostly that he went into hiding after Loretta’s death. But it was Arlo who caused the demise of the infamous demon prince. I suddenly have the urge to barge into the red door and have front row seats to that asshole’s death.
I hope he gave that bastard everything he deserved.
Before I know it, Rosie is throwing herself in my arms, forcing me out of my twisted thought.