Destiny of the Wolf (Heart of the Wolf #2) Underworld (Resident Evil #4)

Max clears his throat and steps forward. Your honor, I’d like to file a motion for a continuance. I have not had sufficient time to prepare and—

He laughed, but it was laced with blackness. You don’t want to hurt me? He moved closer, raising his palm.Our eyes never left each other and I stood unmoving, unfeeling, waiting for him to strike.

Blood Beast (The Demonata #5)

He trembled, his hand opening and closing with rage. How much I want to f**king hurt you, Tess. If I thought it would bring you back, I’d tie you up and not finish hitting you until you broke into tiny pieces so I could glue you back together.The air thickened with violence and I struggled to hold onto my emptiness. Leather Jacket probed my mind, trying to find a way into my tower. A sprinkling of sweat dotted my skin as I struggled.Q suddenly sighed, dropping his hand. He looked away, his temper dimming to surrender. Je ne vais pas te faire de mal parce je ne veux pas te détruire. I won’t hurt you, as I don’t want to destroy you. Cupping my cheek, he ran his thumb along my bottom lip. I can’t stop you leaving, but I won’t stay to see you go. His touch disappeared as he stepped back. I don’t want to see you again. Goodbye, esclave.

Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings

He brushed past without another word.You’re my esclave, my soul mate, each other we own, you’re mine forever, my bird flew home…

I’d torn one man’s heart out, and now I wanted to tear out my own. My fingers ached to pry open my ribcage and wrench it from beating to dead. I no longer wanted to live with this f**king agony every time I thought about Tess.

She’d successfully hurt me more than any other person in the world. She brought me to my f**king knees and I told the truth when I said I didn’t want to see her again.Trick’s hands clenched around the wheel. She’s still hoping she can find a way to make them accept her decision to have the pack in her life. I don’t foresee that happening. Neither do I, but they won’t think that they should feel guilty about that. They’ve always made her feel like the bad guy, and I fucking hate that. Oh, she sees that she’s not the one being unreasonable, but it still makes her feel like shit. All you can do is exactly what you’ve been doing since you found her again—be there for her. Marcus twisted his mouth. We’re not far from her house. Why don’t we stop by and see her? I get that she’s busy, but it’s probably the only thing that will calm your ass down. Totally true. She might not be back from the salvage yard yet. Call her and find out. Frankie had just finished hauling the scrap metal out of the van and into the studio when her cell phone rang. She lowered the music and snatched the phone from the shelf. Trick’s name flashed on the screen. Yup? she answered simply. Hey, baby. You done at the salvage yard? She frowned at the strained note in his voice. Yeah, I’m back at the house. Where are you? About ten minutes away. I’ll be there soon to help you unload the stuff out of the van. Damn, he was too sweet. I’m already done with that. But you’re still welcome to come. I’ll be there soon, he said, his voice a little warmer this time. Okay, I’ll— The sound of a car engine made her turn. Seeing a blue Chevy Tahoe, she sighed. Crap. What? Looks like Vance has decided to pay me a visit. Trick swore. Do not let him in the house. Pull down the fucking studio door and ignore the bastard. I’ll deal with him. I can handle him just fine myself. She slowly walked out the side door as the car turned up the driveway that led to the studio. No way was she letting the bastard in her—Wait, it’s not Vance, she realized as she saw the license plate. Vance’s ended in VCE. Motherfucker, she spat, because the driver slammed their foot on the pedal and the tires screeched as the car zoomed right at her. Frankie? Frankie! yelled Trick. Without a thought she fled to the side door and turned into the studio, but the car followed her inside and screeched to a halt, clipping her leg hard enough to send her sprawling onto the concrete floor. Pain pounded up her leg and burned the heels of her hands. Grinding her teeth, she rolled onto her back. That was when the driver smoothly exited the car. He looked vaguely familiar. She hadn’t gotten a good look at the guy who’d attacked Trick in the restroom, but she suspected that this was him. Drake. Well, fuck. She clenched her fist. Where the hell was her phone? She’d dropped it when she fell, and she couldn’t see it anywhere. Dread hit her square in the chest. In retrospect, it had been stupid to run into the studio—she would never have been able to shut the metal door in time to keep the fucker out, but she hadn’t been thinking. She’d been too busy panicking. That panic flooded her now, pumping adrenaline through her veins. She braced herself on her elbows, wondering if he could hear the frantic beat of her heart—it thrashed in her ears, just as her wolf thrashed inside her with rage. He came toward her, whistling. Hey, sweet girl. Fast runner, ain’t you? Just not fast enough. Now, why don’t I help you up? Her claws sliced out and she swiped at him, slashing his face and drawing blood. He jerked back, as if shocked by the sight of her claws. Taking advantage of that, she slashed at him again. Laughing, he jerked back and dodged the move. Yes, he laughed. I did not know you were a shifter. You live out here, no pack, no mate. It’s a good thing I like surprises. She struggled to her feet—bad idea. Her leg still throbbed with pain. Sensing he was ready to lunge, she snarled. Don’t even try it, motherfucker. She might not know the type of combat that shifters often learned, but she could still cause him pain. Sorry, sweetheart, but you need to come with me. Not gonna happen. He moved fast. Wicked fast. His fist slammed into her jaw, dazing her. Shame I had to mess up that pretty face, he said. Whistling again, he dragged her toward the vehicle, but her bad leg crumpled and went out from underneath her. It caught him off guard, and he stumbled as she fell onto her back. Leaning over her, he sighed. Do you have to be awkward? She thrust her claws into his abs, stabbing deep, scraping bone. Yes. He let her go so abruptly that the back of her head hit the concrete with an awful crack. Her head swam and nausea curdled in her stomach. Fucking bitch. A boot slammed into her stomach, knocking the breath right out of her. She curled up, hissing. Her wolf went ape-shit and lunged for the surface, but then sharp claws pressed against Frankie’s throat hard enough to break the skin. Both she and her wolf froze. I’m done playing, he said. Now, we’re going to get into the fucking car and go somewhere quiet. Somewhere where we can have some privacy. Won’t that be nice? Um, no. She knew deep down to her bones that if she left with him, she’d be dead within the hour. But there was no way of fighting back without getting her throat slit open. She forced her voice to shake as she said, I’ll go with you. I won’t struggle. Just don’t kill me. Please. He beamed at her. So polite. I like it when they beg. Wait until I tell your boyfriend how you begged for me. Ooh, he’ll sure as shit hate that. Now, sheathe those claws for me. That’s it. See, following orders isn’t so hard. He dropped his claws from her throat and yanked her to her feet by her arm—fuck if that didn’t hurt. That was when she slammed her forehead into his nose. The animalistic sound that came out of his throat was a mix of anger and pain. Even as her head pounded, she pulled free of his hold and snatched the hammer from the peg on the wall. She swung it at his head. A slight vibration shot up her arm as the hammer connected with his skull. He staggered with a pained grunt, hand flying to his head. Knowing there was no sense in running, Frankie slowly took jerky backward steps, careful not to lose her footing. Hammer still in one hand, she unsheathed the claws of her other, waiting. He glared at her, eyes cold, mouth twisted, blood running from his broken nose. You’ll pay for— He stiffened. They could both hear the mad rumbling of a car engine and the squealing of tires. She smiled. Here comes Trick. His eyes widened as he peeked outside. Fuck! He looked like he might make another grab for her, so she swung the hammer once more. She missed. But he swore and—clearly deciding she was more trouble than she was worth—scrambled into his car and reversed out of the studio fast. Then he sped away, out of sight, leaving a cloud of dirt in his wake. Letting the hammer drop to the floor with a clang, she hobbled to the doorway and watched his car disappear down the road mere moments before an SUV paused just long enough for Trick to jump out. Then the SUV was gone, chasing the other vehicle.

Maybe it was the adrenaline crash or maybe it was the relief at seeing him, but both her legs gave out, and her ass hit the floor. Trick crouched in front of her and cupped her face. Even though his eyes were hard and his face was set into a mask of fury, she’d never felt safer. Trick’s heart slammed against his ribs as he got a good look at her. Her jaw was bruised, pain was etched into every line of her worryingly pale face, there was blood spatter on her clothes, and . . . Fuck, why is blood dripping down your neck? She lifted her chin slightly so he could better see the puncture wounds. His claws pricked my throat; the cuts aren’t deep. Trick saw that she was right, but it didn’t calm him whatsofuckingever. His wolf predictably lost his shit and charged at Trick, demanding the freedom to stalk his mate’s attacker. Trick fought him, focusing on Frankie. Vengeance could come later. Where else are you hurt? Leg. Ribs. Back of my head. I don’t think I’m bleeding anywhere other than my neck. You’re wrong, he growled as his hand gently probed the back of her skull and he felt a sticky warmth and one hell of a lump. She winced. Fucking ow. Hating that he’d hurt her, he kissed her forehead. I need to get a look at your stomach. He gently peeled up her T-shirt and spit a curse at the black-and-purple bruise that was starting to form. A growl vibrated his chest. I’ll kill him. I’ll fucking kill him. It was Drake. I know. I can smell him. The scent of the bastard was driving his wolf almost as crazy as the scent of her blood. Marcus is chasing his ass. He wanted to take me with him. It struck Trick that if he’d been even a minute later, Drake would probably have had her in his grasp right then. That thought was enough to make his breath catch in his throat. You said your leg was hurt. Which one? She gently touched her calf. I don’t know what’s wrong with it. He clipped it with the car. She almost jerked in surprise as his claw sliced open the leg of her jeans without even grazing her skin. Damn, her calf was swollen and bruised, and she thought it was possible that the hit had fractured something. Shit. Well, at least the sculptures are okay. Trick did a slow blink. What did you just say? He drove his car in here—he came close to knocking over the hellhorse. That would have been bad. He glared at her in pure disbelief. Your wounds are bad. She was more important than any damn sculpture. Don’t growl at me. Closing his eyes, Trick inhaled through his nose. Woman, you drive me insane. He straightened, and her hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. He cupped her chin. Hey, I’m not going anywhere. Frankie swallowed and let him go. I know. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I did that. You did it because some asshole just scared you out of your mind. Standing, he carefully scooped her up. We’re getting the fuck out of here. Taryn’s a healer. She can help with your wounds. I need to lock up. I’ll do that; let’s just get you in the car first. Frankie sighed. Okay. She melted against him, shaking as the adrenaline drained from her system. As he cradled her close to his chest, he buried his face in her hair and inhaled her scent as they headed to her Audi. She felt light-headed and dizzy. Dammit, she would not faint. Newmans didn’t faint. You must have broken all kinds of laws to get here so fast. I didn’t know what was happening; I just knew someone had come for you. I swear my fucking heart stopped—then it was pounding like crazy. It still hadn’t calmed. I heard you shout, I heard the car engine getting closer, and then the line went dead. That guy’s not altogether sane, you know. Yeah, I know. He won’t hurt you again. Never again. Trick settled her in the passenger seat of her Audi and, careful of her wounds, clicked on her seat belt. Wait here. He quickly locked up the studio, found her phone, and secured the house. He was just adjusting the driver’s seat to give himself more legroom when his cell rang. That’ll be Marcus. Trick dug out his phone and answered, Tell me you have him. A sigh. I wish I could, said Marcus. I lost him. Trick growled, and his wolf lashed out in anger, raking Trick’s insides with his claws. How could you possibly have lost him? He pulled up outside a big fucking building and ran inside, said Marcus. I followed him in there and searched for him, but he’d just disappeared in the crowd. There were too many scents for me to find him. Smart, said Frankie, her shifter hearing picking up Marcus’s words. I’ll search his car before it gets towed and see if I can find anything that will tell us where he’s staying—if Morelli’s telling the truth that Drake split, that is. Trick closed his eyes, seeking calm. I have to go, Marcus, I’ll talk to you later. Ending the call, he slipped his cell back into his pocket. Hearing his teeth grinding, she patted his thigh with a shaky hand. I’m okay. She couldn’t quite stop trembling. Really, I’m okay. No, you’re not. But you will be. He switched on the ignition. We’re going home. Taryn will heal you. Frankie sure hoped his Alpha female was good at what she did, because now that the adrenaline had faded from her system, the pain was starting to kick in. Her head throbbed like a bitch, her leg pulsed with pain, and the puncture marks on her neck stung like hell. Worse, every single breath hurt, thanks to what she suspected was a cracked rib. Stop growling. Trick couldn’t. When they hit a road bump and she gasped in pain, he swore viciously. Sorry, baby. As he drove, fury pulsed through his veins, threatening to steal the rationality that he was holding on to by a very thin thread. He forced himself not to think of what had happened, to simply concentrate on the road so they didn’t end up in a fucking car accident. But it was damn hard while the scent of her blood filled the small space. Finally back on their territory, he carried her up the face of the cliff, hating every step he took because he knew each jostle hurt her. She didn’t make a sound, though. She squeezed her eyes shut and shoved her face in his chest as one hand bunched up his T-shirt. When he barged into the living area, everyone jumped to their feet like they’d been given a fucking electric shock. Shit, what happened? demanded Jaime, her eyes wide. I’ll explain everything once Frankie’s healed, said Trick. Her leg is fucked up, she has a cracked rib, and there’s a goose egg on the back of her head with a slash that only just stopped bleeding. The puncture wounds on her neck have stopped bleeding as well. The bruise on her jaw has faded, but it’s still a little swollen. Lydia knotted her hand in her hair, eyes wide. Oh my God. Trick, lay her on the floor, said Taryn, all business. Ryan, open the window. Trick carefully set Frankie down. Just stay still, baby.Can’t really go far on this leg anyway, she pointed out. Taryn rested a hand on Frankie’s forehead, and each of her wounds glowed through her skin. Trick frowned at his mate. You didn’t tell me your shoulder was hurt. He yanked hard on my arm to pull me off the ground, but I’m pretty sure my shoulder isn’t dislocated or anything. It was close, Taryn told her. Then she put her mouth to Frankie’s, inhaled deeply, and turned to the window as she exhaled. A stream of black particles zoomed through the air and out the window. Then she did it again and again. As Taryn healed his mate, Trick quickly and succinctly explained to the pack what had happened. Call Morelli, he told Trey. If I do it, there’ll be nothing diplomatic about what comes out of my mouth, and I’ll end up challenging the son of a bitch. And he didn’t want to leave Frankie’s side. Morelli said Drake’s gone AWOL, Tao reminded them. He might not have had anything to do with it. Trick looked at the Head Enforcer. But I’d settle for ripping out Morelli’s throat in lieu of Drake’s, which is why Trey needs to be the one who makes the call. Their Alpha male nodded. It’ll be done. You know what will happen, said Dante. Morelli will offer to find Drake, bring him in, and then hand him over to us, but only if you agree to an alliance. Fuck him. Taryn coughed and, done healing Frankie, sat back as she accepted a bottle of water from Grace. He’ll get nothing from us. Trick helped his mate sit upright and checked her over, even though he knew each of her wounds would be gone. Until he saw for himself that she was fine, he couldn’t relax. We can get to Drake without his help, said Ryan. Besides, the guy’s insane, but he’s not completely stupid. He’ll know that Morelli might make that kind of offer, so he’ll keep his distance from him. I agree, said Trey. His gaze slid back to Trick as he vowed, We’ll find him. And we’ll do it before he gets the chance to harm Frankie or anyone else. Frankie blew out a breath. I really wish the hammer had connected with his skull both times. Trick blinked at his mate. What? After I broke his nose— You broke his nose? —I grabbed my hammer. But only the first hit connected. It hurt him, though, which fills me with glee. Still, it would have been more satisfying to have caved in the side of his skull. Realizing that everyone was staring at her, Frankie frowned. What? Jaime gaped down at her. You really broke his nose and hit him with a blunt instrument? Clawed his face and stabbed him in the lower stomach too, said Frankie. Lydia looked down at her niece in disbelief. You look so sweet, it’s just hard imagining you swinging a hammer at someone’s head. Frankie opened her mouth to speak, but then Trick took her off guard by suddenly scooping her off the floor and stalking out of the room. I can walk, she said. His response was a low growl—the sound seemed to come from both the man and the animal. She rubbed his chest, hoping to pet the anger out of him. His muscles were so tight with tension, she wondered if they ached. His blood pressure was probably through the roof. He didn’t put her down until they were inside his room. She grimaced as she said, I badly need a shower. She was covered in dried blood, which was no one’s definition of fun, and she knew that Trick had no chance of calming while the scent of her blood was in the air. He seemed to be barely holding on to his control. He didn’t respond to her announcement other than by giving a short nod. It hurt her to see him standing there, muscles stiff and eyes fevered, caught up in a mood so dark that she wasn’t sure anyone could reach him right then—not even her. She knew all about needing space when you were angry, so, figuring that time on his own might help, she took a quick shower and scrubbed all the blood off her skin and out of her hair. Afterward she wrapped a fluffy towel around herself and headed back into the bedroom . . . only to find Trick pacing up and down like a caged animal, neck corded, stare unblinking. His muscles weren’t quite so rigid, but it was clear that he was still far from calm. He didn’t even look her way as she pulled on a T-shirt, panties, and shorts. She was just done brushing the tangles out of her wet hair when, still pacing, he finally spoke. Later we’ll go back to your place, pack your shit, and bring it all here. Frankie’s head snapped up. She figured she should have seen that coming. Trick, I— You’re moving here. His tone left no room for negotiation. It’s time, Frankie. You know I can’t until— Trick rounded on her. That asshole knows where you live, he ground out, fists clenched. What’s to stop him going back for you? It’s not enough that you’re here most nights. He could still do something cruel like set fire to the fucking house. Horror struck her at the thought. Oh my God, he’d destroy my sculptures. Trick’s eyes blazed at her. Could we forget about them for one damn second? No, they’re important— I know. Trick cupped her face with hands that trembled slightly with rage. I know that a piece of your soul went into every single one of them. That is all the more reason to bring them here, where he can’t get to them. Most importantly, you need to be here, where he can’t get to you. He should have killed Drake when he’d had the chance, Trick thought. Should have bludgeoned him with the steel bar. No, too quick. He should have held his head in the toilet until his lungs filled with fluid and the life left his body. Your moving here is going to happen at some point, Frankie. There’s no reason why it can’t be sooner rather than later. He made an effort to soften his voice as he asked, Would it really be so bad? She sighed. No. Look, I understand that it must be driving you crazy that you haven’t claimed me yet; I know I’m not giving you what you need. You’re all I need. But I’m not giving you the level of commitment that you rightfully want. And I know the urge to claim me has to be riding you hard, but— I can wait to claim you. But while I do, I want you here, with me. Here, where you and your wolf are happy. Here, where the Newmans can’t turn up and give you shit. Here, where Drake can’t reach you. She jutted out her chin. I’m not moving until the hellhorse is finished. I can’t. It’s not stable enough to be moved yet. Hating that he had to respect that, Trick inhaled deeply and took a moment to think. You said it would take a couple of days to finish the sculpture. While you work on that, the pack will help me move whatever you want to take with you, including the sculptures that can already be moved. I’ll put them in your studio here. But— I know you’re still hoping that you can fix things with your uncle and grandparents, he said, striving to sound sensitive. I know you’re worried that if you move here, they’ll see it as you choosing a side. But they’re not stupid, Frankie. They’re well aware that you’ll come to live on pack territory for the simple reason that we’re mates. You can’t win with them, no matter what you do. I learned that for myself today.

Where Angels Go (Angels Everywhere #6)

She narrowed her eyes. What does that mean? He slid his hands from her face down to her shoulders. I met with Brad earlier. Brad as in my uncle? He sent me an e-mail, asking to meet me alone. Trick raised a hand when her eyes flared with anger. I didn’t tell you because you would have insisted on coming, and then I wouldn’t have found out whatever it was that he wanted to say because he’d have minded his words in front of you. And what did he want to say? She clenched her hands when he hesitated. Trick, tell me. So he told her. And she gawked. He offered you fifty thousand dollars to walk away from me? Her wolf went stock-still. He said he was doing it at Marcia’s request, but he was lying. That was all him. She might have known about it—if she did, she’d probably even approved of it—but bribing me was his idea. Trick rubbed at his jaw. The damn thing ached from how hard he’d ground his teeth. He also did a background check on me. He found out about Jana—though he’d been told that she was truly my mate—and he threatened to tell you, thinking it would make me walk away so that you’d never have to know. Frankie should have been angry at the news. Instead the swell of emotions inside her just . . . deflated, leaving only the ache of betrayal. She wouldn’t have thought that Brad would ever do something so sly and devious—it seemed so out of character for him. But then, he’d lied to her all these years, hadn’t he? So maybe she shouldn’t be so surprised. Trick tugged her closer. I didn’t want to tell you about this, because I knew how much it would hurt you. But there shouldn’t be lies between mates. I won’t keep things from you. You kept it from me until now. Yes, I know why. I also can’t disagree that you made a valid point: I would have insisted on going. He would never have said any of that shit in front of me. The pain in her eyes gutted Trick. He rested his forehead on hers. I hate that they do this to you. Yeah, so did Frankie. She backed away, swallowing hard. I’m going to sit out on the balcony for a while. He moved so silently that she didn’t even realize he’d followed her until he took the patio chair beside hers. At the impatient look she tossed at him, Trick raised his hands. I won’t touch you, I won’t speak to you, but I also won’t leave you on your own. I’m here if you want to talk. If you don’t, that’s fine. But I don’t want you to be alone, so don’t ask me to move. She turned her gaze to the scenery. Awkward fucker. I’ve been called worse. As he’d promised, Trick didn’t say a word as she simply sat there, facing the view, her gaze focused inward. That promise became harder to keep the longer she didn’t move. He didn’t know what was going on in her pretty little head, and he worried that it was something he wasn’t going to like. Still, he kept his mouth shut and didn’t reach out to touch her as he so badly wanted to. No, not wanted. Needed. Not just to calm and reassure himself that she was physically fine, but because the drive to soothe pounded through him. He hated that she was hurting, hated that he couldn’t avenge that hurt. His wolf wanted the freedom to hunt, mangle, and kill. Wanted to see and smell and taste Drake’s blood. Not even his mate’s presence was calming him or— She straightened in her chair and twisted to face him. Get ready. Trick blinked. For what? It should hit us any minute now. What do you—? Red-hot arousal slammed into him and flooded his system. Just like that, his blood thickened, his body tightened, and his cock filled to bursting. And then the drive to soothe her disappeared, completely drowned out by the urge to take and claim and mate. He double-blinked. Fuck. She swallowed, her mouth suddenly bone-dry. Yeah, we need to fuck. CHAPTER THIRTEEN They collided. Frankie didn’t remember getting to her feet. One second she’d been sitting on the chair, needing him so badly it hurt; the next thing she knew they were both standing upright and he was kissing the breath from her lungs. Growling and groaning, they clawed off each other’s clothes. She fisted his cock—it was long and thick and warm—and began to pump. He thrust into her grip, sucking on her pulse and grunting into her neck. She wanted his cock in her mouth. Needed him to feel her mouth around him. It was a primal thing she couldn’t quite explain, but it was all tied up in this undying need to brand him as hers. Not much took Trick off guard, but he’d been so caught up in Frankie’s taste that he almost stumbled when she suddenly dropped to her knees. Her lips closed around the head of his cock, and her tongue licked and danced. Suck, he rumbled. But she didn’t. She ran her tongue along his length and lapped up the drop of pre-come. He growled. I said suck it, not play with it. She finally took him in her mouth, and Trick fisted her hair. Perfect for bunching in my hands while I fuck your mouth. He pumped his hips, mesmerized by the sight of his cock disappearing between her lips over and over. You still look so innocent, even with your mouth wrapped around my dick. She swallowed, and her throat contracted around him. Jesus. You’re going to make me come. I’m not ready yet. He stilled his hips and tugged on her hair. Get up. The moment she was upright, he propped her on the patio table. Lay back and spread your legs. My turn. Frankie shook her head. She loved his fingers and his tongue, but she didn’t have the patience for foreplay. Her pussy throbbed and ached. She wanted him in her, fucking her, claiming her. Trick arched a brow. I want the taste of you in my mouth. You can give it to me or I can take it. Her eyes narrowed, but she lay back and spread her thighs. Good girl. He sank two fingers inside her. Soaking wet. Frankie gripped the edges of the table as he lifted her hips and swiped his tongue through her folds. He growled, and his fingers bit into her as he feasted. He didn’t just lick and nip, he sucked at her folds, swirled the tip of his tongue around her clit, and repeatedly stabbed his tongue inside her. The friction built, wound her tighter and tighter, until she just couldn’t take any more. Trick . . . It was a warning. She was going to come. Trick hooked her legs over his shoulders, sucked a nipple into his mouth, and plunged deep into her pussy. And she came. He ground his teeth, fighting the urge to explode along with her. His cock throbbed inside her, as if objecting to him holding back. Panting, Frankie practically melted against the table. That had been one hell of an orgasm, but her pussy still ached. She got the feeling that the mating urge wouldn’t cool until he’d come deep inside her. Fuck me. Oh, I’ll fuck you all right. He drew back until only the head of his cock was inside her, and then he slammed home. Her pussy clamped around him, so wet and tight it was sheer fucking heaven. And Trick lost all pretense of control. He brutally hammered into her. And that was no exaggeration. He’d been fighting the drive to claim her for weeks, and all that frustration poured out of him in a frenzy of violent thrusts. Tell me to stop. Hearing her say it would be the only thing that could ease that frenzy.She shook her head, eyes glinting with panic. No, don’t stop. God, don’t stop. Fuck. He kept on powering into her, branding her with every possessive stroke, driven by the need to claim and his wolf’s determination to take and own. You looked so fucking good with my cock in your mouth. You’ll take it again. But next time, I’ll come down your throat. Her pussy squeezed and fluttered around him. As he stared down at her—taking in the gorgeous tattoos, the hot little piercing, the way her tits jiggled with each thrust, and the way her eyes glazed over—he felt his own release closing in on him. He leaned over her. Bite me, he growled. Mark me, Frankie. He knew that the moment he sank his own teeth into her skin, the moment he finally claimed what belonged to him, his cock would fucking detonate. He didn’t want to be midorgasm and half out of his mind when she claimed him; he wanted to feel every second of it. Do it, he growled. Needing it as badly as he did, Frankie reared up and bit down hard on the crook of his neck, drawing blood—she sucked and licked, branding him, just as her wolf demanded. Fuck, baby. He sucked her pulse into his mouth, felt it beating there hard and fast, and he sank his teeth down hard enough to break the skin. His release slammed into him, and he roughly rammed his cock deep as he exploded. Her pussy contracted around him as a scream tore from her throat and she came. All the while, he sucked and licked to leave that definite mark that would never fade, that would declare to the world that she belonged to him. He collapsed over her, shuddering and gasping for breath. Baby— White-hot pain stabbed his head and pierced his chest. His breath seemed to stutter, and his vision dimmed. Beneath him, her back briefly arched, and then a gasp of wonder flew out of her. He knew why—because the pain quickly smoothed away as the mating bond now pulsed between them. Satisfaction. Relief. Awe. Each emotion ballooned inside him. He’d known that the bond would make him feel utterly complete—she was the other half of his soul. But nothing could have prepared him for just how powerful the bond truly was. It soothed and anchored him. Gave him a sense of home that even his pack had never given him. Trick cupped her face, stroking his thumb along her cheekbone and enjoying the soul-deep knowledge that this creature was and would always be his. No one would ever take her from him. No one. Never again. You okay? Uh-huh. Frankie didn’t need to ask how he was feeling; masculine satisfaction and contentment buzzed down the bond, touching her mind as clearly as the pads of his fingers touched her face. She hadn’t expected to be able to feel the bond so strongly, but it was as much a part of her as her limbs. She felt Trick everywhere, as if she now wore him as a second skin—it was hard to explain. She felt . . . centered. Balanced. Whole. Knew this bond would settle and steady her in a way that nothing else ever could have. Equally happy and tranquil, her wolf stretched out, lazy with utter contentment. As his cock slipped out of her, Trick lifted her in his arms and carried her inside the room. Gently he lay her on the bed, keeping her close. Now you’re irrevocably mine. He sounded so smug about it, but she was way too relaxed to care. She snuggled into him and doodled on his chest with her fingers. I didn’t intend to leave you, bond or no bond. Trick almost snorted. He wouldn’t have let her leave him. He kissed her gently, sipping from her mouth. He liked her this way, muscles loose and limp, eyes heavy lidded and languid. What brought that on? What made you reach for the bond? he asked. It was a couple of things. Realizing she was tracing her name on his skin with her finger, he smiled. Such as? Well, I was sitting there, thinking of everything you told me, and I had to face that you were right. I wouldn’t find a way to make everyone happy. I had to do what was right for me and my wolf. I knew she was testing you to see if you were worthy, but I didn’t really understand it. Not until I realized she was ready to be claimed. She was ready? Not until today. You see, growing up, I didn’t have other shifters in my life. My maternal family didn’t fully accept me, and they sure as hell didn’t accept my wolf. She and I only really had each other. I was her protector, and she was mine. I guess she wasn’t prepared to give up that job unless it was to someone she felt could and would truly protect me. You did it when my grandfather came to my house. You did it at the funeral, when people were crowding me and I needed to get away. And you did it again today, when you scared Drake away and stayed with me. The whole staying-with-me part seemed to mean more to her. It was important to her that you were my priority, said Trick, understanding. She needed to know that I’d put you first—including before my own anger and my own thirst for vengeance. Because no one had put Frankie first in a very long time. He appreciated that her wolf was so protective of her, and it humbled him that the animal trusted him with Frankie. Although all those things you did meant something to me too, I was still holding on to the hope that I could make each side of my family accept the other. But then you told me what Brad did, and I realized that I was going to have to choose. She rubbed her thumb over the brand she’d left on his neck, but she kept her eyes locked with his. I chose you and whatever comes with you. Curving his hand around her nape, Trick kissed her. Consumed her. Relished the knowledge that she’d chosen him. He rested his forehead against hers. I’m going to be hell to live with until the mating bond snaps fully into place. Even more ridiculously possessive and hyperprotective than I was before. I won’t like other males getting too close to you, especially if they’re unmated. My wolf will be just as intense about all this. Be patient with us. I can’t promise that. Frankie wasn’t known for her patience. When will the bond fully snap into place? When you let go of whatever’s blocking it. She frowned. I’m not holding back from you. No, but you’re holding back slightly from the bond. Frankie’s frown deepened as she thought on it. I’m not doing it on purpose. She tried to undo it, tried to figure why it was happening, but she couldn’t. Seriously, Trick, I don’t mean to hold back. I don’t know how to fix it. Shh, don’t panic. Trick kissed her. Give it time. We’ll work out what it is, and we’ll take care of it. But this isn’t something that can be rushed. He lapped at his mark. There was a world of difference between knowing she was his and having that assurance that she was irreversibly his. That assurance both steadied and energized him. It was better than any drug. I say we go outside and let our wolves run together. Frankie smiled. She likes that idea. As his hand slid from her nape to the back of her head where the wound had been, Frankie said, It’s gone. I know. But Trick would never let it go. I’ll make him pay, he promised her. Okay. But can you fuck me again first? He smiled. I don’t see why not. He rolled on top of her, hiked her leg up, and smoothly drove inside his mate.

It took three days for Frankie to finish the hellhorse sculpture, but it was a further two days before she was willing to move it; she needed to be sure that the glue was dry. Trick hadn’t been happy about the delay, but he’d surprised her by not voicing his frustration. During that time he and some of the other Phoenix wolves had gradually moved her things to pack territory, including her completed sculptures. She’d originally planned to sell the house, but Makenna asked if she would be willing to rent it out to a female from the shelter. Frankie agreed and intended to leave much of the furniture for her new tenant, who wouldn’t be moving into the house until the Drake situation had been taken care of. According to Trey, Morelli had sounded pissed on hearing that Drake had harmed her. So pissed, in fact, that he’d cut the asshole completely loose. Once again, Drake was a lone shifter. Or so Morelli said, anyway. Neither Frankie nor Trick was convinced of that. When the day finally arrived that the sculpture could be moved, Trick and some of the Phoenix wolves came to help Frankie pack up the last of her things and take her equipment from the studio. That was no doubt why Abigail looked completely perplexed when Marcus escorted her into the garden, where Frankie was supervising Ryan and Tao as they disassembled the hot tub—Trick wanted that for their balcony. Frankie smiled at her agent. Hey. Abigail glanced at the males taking apart the tub. You’re moving, Frankie? Yeah. I forgot to mention it on the phone. More accurately, she’d been a little distracted by Trick’s tongue stabbing into her pussy. This is Ryan and Tao, by the way. The antisocial Ryan did no more than grunt. Tao, not a fan of humans or anyone outside his pack, merely inclined his head. Where are you moving to? Abigail asked her. Please say New York, because it will mean I don’t need to keep flying over here to see you. And who is that guy who just escorted me out here? Frankie led her into the kitchen as she explained. Marcus is a friend of mine. I’m not moving to New York, sorry. I’m staying in California. I’m actually moving to shifter territory. Abigail’s mouth fell open. Shifter territory? Yes. I found my mate. We’ve claimed each other. A lot of stuff has gone on and, um, well, it’s a long story. Abigail settled on a stool. I have time. After Frankie told her everything, her agent shook her head. Wow. Do your grandparents know that the wolf claimed you? Not yet. But they’ll know it’s pretty much inevitable. I haven’t heard or seen anything of them for a while now. And this guy, Trick, is good to you? Frankie nodded. Very. He badly wanted to claim me from the start, just like any shifter would do if they found their mate. But he was so patient with me. Didn’t push. Didn’t try to make me pick a side. I sensed he was getting impatient, but he never showed it. You love him, Abigail whispered. Maybe. Abigail lightly tapped a hand on the table. Well, I’d like to meet him before you show me your latest sculpture. Is he here? Yep. He’s in the studio. Frankie walked ahead of her as they made their way into the studio, where he and a few others were moving the last of her equipment. Trick? He turned to her, and his eyes softened. Hey, baby, what do you need? This is Abigail, my agent. An agent who was currently looking a little tongue-tied. Frankie could hardly blame her, given that Trick had whipped off his shirt and there was a whole lot of muscle to admire. Draping his arm around Frankie’s shoulders, Trick gave the human a nod. Frankie speaks highly of you. Shaking off her stupor, Abigail said, Well, she’s just spoken very highly of you. His mouth curved. Good to know. He moved aside so he was no longer blocking her view of the sculpture. Impressive, right? Abigail’s brows lifted. Well. She crossed to the hellhorse and slowly circled it, taking in every detail. It’s fantastic, Frankie. Really, I don’t know whether to feel happy for the creature for escaping its chains, or whether I should be worried about what it will do to avenge itself. It makes you wonder if it was chained for a good reason. She twirled to face Frankie, eyes alight. You never fail to astonish me. I love it. It will fit in perfectly with the theme of the art show. Just like that, Trick decided he liked Abigail a fuck of a lot. The fervor of her praise and admiration was genuine. It was also exactly what Frankie deserved. Her appreciation and relief hummed down their bond, and he knew that her agent’s opinion didn’t just matter to her on a professional level. She considered Abigail her friend, and the human’s judgment meant something to her. Packing up the sculpture wasn’t a quick or easy process, but they all pitched in so that both the creepy kid and the hellhorse could be transported to New York at the same time. Later, as Frankie unpacked the last of her things in their room on pack territory, Trick came up behind her and slid his arms around her waist. He dabbed a kiss on her claiming mark, breathing her in. He fucking loved her scent; he wanted it mixed with his own. That’s me all moved in, she told him, closing the drawer that he’d cleared out for her. Happy now? Ecstatic. He sucked on her earlobe, splaying his hand possessively on her stomach. Now you’re exactly where you belong. Her head tipped back as he licked, kissed, and nipped at her neck, paying particular attention to his claiming mark. He snaked his hand under her shirt and traced the tattoo he knew as well as the back of his hand. You’re damn distracting. He tapped her ass and stepped back. Come on, time for dinner. Breathing a little hard, she scowled as she pivoted to face him. Hey, you can’t get a girl all revved up and then not follow through. I’m hungry. So am I. But not for food. Trick smiled and sucked her bottom lip into his mouth. Later, I’ll be doing all kinds of very dirty things to you. Right now, we eat. She groaned, dragging her heels as he led her out of the room. You can’t say shit like that when I’m horny. Of course I can, baby. Asshole. She slammed the door behind them, giving emphasis to her insult. So you often say. Keeping his fingers linked with hers, he kept her close as they walked through the tunnels. A few days ago, when he’d announced to the pack that he and Frankie were officially mated, they had all been overjoyed. He’d sensed Frankie’s surprise at just how happy they’d been. He’d realized then that although she’d known they wanted her living on their territory, she hadn’t realized just how much they’d all come to like and respect her. Probably because she simply didn’t expect people to like her much. He blamed her grandparents for that. In making her feel that she lacked, they’d left her with some self-esteem issues. He was proud that, despite all that, she was a confident female who went after what she wanted in life. Was proud that she was his mate. Okay, now that I can smell food, my appetite is building, said Frankie. But I still think a quickie wouldn’t have been a bad idea.We don’t have quickies, Frankie. We try, but it never quite works out. He always got too carried away in her, always needed to taste and touch as much of her as he could. I can’t really deny that. She’d taken one step into the kitchen when she jumped out of her freaking skin as a bunch of voices shouted, Surprise! The whole pack was gathered there, smiling, raising glasses, and blowing party poppers. Behind them on the wall was a large banner that read Welcome Home, Frankie! There was a huge cake on the table in the center of an impressive spread of food. And damn if a lump of emotion didn’t build in her throat. Trick draped his arm over her shoulders and kissed her temple. It’s an official welcome to the pack. Frankie bit her lip. I don’t know what to say, except . . . wow. Laughing, Taryn came forward, shoved a glass of something bubbly in Frankie’s hand, and said, Come on, let’s get absolutely hammered and torment Greta. CHAPTER FOURTEEN It was the soft murmurs that tugged Frankie out of sleep. Or maybe it was the mouth pressing light kisses to the palm of her hand. Both of those things would have been fine if she hadn’t woken with the hangover from hell. Her eyes throbbed, her stomach churned, her body seemed drained of energy, and her head—oh God, her head. Apparently she’d chugged down cosmos like they would grant her the gift of eternal life. Her mouth was dry as a damn bone. She licked her lower lip. Tasted something. Toothpaste crust. Awesome. Time to wake up, baby, Trick whispered, one hand smoothing the hair from her face. Turn the light off, she slurred. Because it made her feel like someone was stabbing the backs of her eyeballs with toothpicks. No lights are on. Then close the curtains. She tried tugging the covers over her head, but she only managed to flap her hand. Trick softly chuckled. You need to get up. It’s past noon. She wasn’t moving from the bed. Ever. Nuh-uh. She wasn’t fit to be seen anyway. She’d had enough killer hangovers to know that she probably looked like a reject from The Walking Dead. She felt like a reject. Another light kiss to her palm. I’d pegged you for a lightweight, but it took countless drinks before the alcohol seemed to actually hit you. Why was he talking? Did she look like she was capable of conversation right then? Her wolf snapped her teeth at him, warning him to go away and leave her to recover. But the bastard didn’t. Come on, baby. I’ll help you up. She moaned. Dying. Get. Priest. Trick’s body shook, and his amusement buzzed down their bond. Open your eyes for me, Frankie. She tried, but the light stabbed her eyeballs. Rookie mistake. Just let me die in peace, she begged. She didn’t want him there, laughing at her. She wanted painkillers. Frankie + Tylenol = BFFs. Trick kissed her bare shoulder, wondering if he should tell her that not only did she have supremely bad bedhead, but her makeup was smeared all over her face. It could motivate her to get into the shower, but it could just as easily motivate her into hiding under the covers. He was surprised that she hadn’t spent the night vomiting, given how many cosmos and beers she’d consumed. She’d only thrown up once, just before she tumbled into dreamland. I almost had to tie you to the bed last night. After you yacked in the bathroom, you declared you wanted to go to Taco Bell. You were adamant about it, so I said that if you rested for ten minutes, I’d take you. Thankfully, you fell asleep. Frankie squeezed her eyes shut. No, that hadn’t happened. It hadn’t. It couldn’t have. Fuck, that had actually happened! Oh, she was 100 percent sad. Just. Sad. That much was totally without question. Trick lifted the glass from the nightstand. Here. Drink this. Will it help me die quicker? It’s water. Water . . . Oh, that sounded good. She couldn’t take the bitter taste in her mouth much longer. Carefully lifting her head, she waited until the urge to gag faded and then slowly sat upright. He put the glass to her lips, and she sipped at the water, almost tearing up with happiness when he placed two Tylenol in her hand. She swallowed them, studying him through squinty eyes. He’d clearly showered and dressed. The bastard looked fresh and . . . alert. How was that even possible? Her memories were fuzzy, but she did remember him drinking several beers. Why aren’t you hungover? He shrugged. I don’t really get hangovers. I despise you right now. His mouth curved. You love me. You know it. You just feel awkward saying it. Her spine would have snapped straight if her body didn’t badly lack energy. My, my, my, aren’t we full of ourselves? Not that he was wrong. He just chuckled. You need to get up, showered, and dressed. That would require fine motor skills, which meant it was a no-go. Later, she mumbled. He pressed his fingertips to her temples and began a light massage. That confirmed it. He was an angel sent directly from heaven. My eyes are bloodshot, aren’t they? Yep. But they’re still beautiful, he said gently. She grunted. I remember somebody crying. It wasn’t me, was it? His mouth twitched into a smile. No, it wasn’t you. It was Greta. Roni managed to get her smashed, and—for just a few hours—the woman was almost well adjusted. You don’t remember singing ‘Greased Lightning’ with her on the karaoke? Now you’re just lying. It’s true, he said, chuckling. Another lie. But his words did tug at a memory she never wanted to access, for the sake of her own sanity. I do remember Taryn and Jaime setting up the karaoke in the living area. And I remember Dominic sang ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ while all the females cheered him on like it was a concert. Trick gave her a look filled with sympathy. Baby, you were one of those females. In fact, you were leading the ‘Dominic Brigade.’ He’d have been jealous if it hadn’t been so damn ridiculous. Even his wolf had been amused. I was not. Why was Greta crying? Because she was so happy that her boys had found themselves mates that were worthy of them. Or at least that’s what she said. Frankie gaped. No! Oh yeah. You don’t remember wiping her tears with the bottom of your shirt? No. For which I’m glad. You also took some selfies of you both, pouting like supermodels. Stop lying! Trick laughed. It’s not a lie. Check your cell phone. Later. Once she was in a state where she could handle the shame. Yes, later. Now you need to shower. He helped her out of bed, but she still swayed. Bracing her hand on the wall, she said, I’m okay. I’ve got this. She showered and dressed, every movement clunky and lazy and pitiful. Then she was walking alongside him through the tunnels, her footsteps dragging, her arms hanging loose at her sides. Leaving her bed had truly been a mistake. At first she’d felt a little better. Now she was back to wanting to curl up on the floor and die.

As they neared the kitchen, the smell of greasy food made her stomach roll. But her attention was on the sound of someone crying. No, a recording of someone crying. I love you, Taryn, sobbed Greta. I really do. I should have told you that before. A loud voice overrode the recording. That is not me. Greta, it’s a video, said Taryn. We can all see you on it, clear as day. It’s not me, Greta insisted. Woman, we know what you look like. At that moment Frankie and Trick walked into the kitchen. Heads turned their way, and several pairs of bloodshot eyes met theirs. It made her feel slightly better to know that she wasn’t the only one suffering . . . though she had to admit that none of them looked quite as bad as her. Lydia winced. Damn, sweetie, I thought I looked like shit. Frankie wanted to speak, but all that came out was a grunt. Trick sighed and spoke to Lydia. Frankie’s body is here. She is not. Asshole. A few hours later, Grace suggested a pack run. Everybody, including the kids, went along. The wolves all padded through the woods, ambushing one another and play fighting. Riley’s raven repeatedly dive-bombed Greta and circled the kids to make them laugh. After a while they all settled in a small clearing. Some rested on the ground or lapped at the river, while others pounced and wrestled each other to the ground. Savannah dangled from a tree branch and threw acorns at the other kids—Dexter then collected the acorns and either put them in his pocket or tossed them in the river. Frankie’s wolf sprawled on the ground, enjoying the heat of the sun. Her mate stayed close at all times, protective and possessive. Whenever he crowded her too much, she snapped her teeth. He either licked at her jaw in apology or growled in frustration. Hours later, when she shifted back into her human form, Frankie was feeling a lot better. Which was a good thing, since she’d previously agreed to have dinner at Clara’s house that evening. The invite had also been extended to Trick, Lydia, and Cam, so all four of them hopped into the SUV, and Trick drove them to Bjorn Pack territory. Honestly, Frankie was a little nervous. Not just because she had no idea if Clara’s sons would be there, but also because it still felt weird to be around relative strangers who treated her as though she were one of their family. Clara’s cabin wasn’t far from Iris’s. Neatly planted flowers surrounded it, some exotic, some common. The floral scents gave the place a restful, welcoming feel. Clara eagerly ushered them inside and kissed their cheeks, chattering happily. Looking around, Frankie saw that the decor was earthy and rustic, full of antiques and knickknacks. Clara had good taste. While the home was smaller than Iris’s cabin, Frankie couldn’t help but note that she didn’t feel cramped, whereas the house she’d grown up in was three times this size, yet she’d felt more confined in that house than she had anywhere else. Frankie couldn’t have been more relieved to hear that Clara’s sons wouldn’t be there. The scents of lavender, lacquered wood, and sizzling-hot food also went a long way to putting her at ease. And when Clara and Cesar sensed that Frankie and Trick were mated, they were so delighted that more of her tension slipped away. Everyone talked and laughed at the dining table. All the while, the TV played low in the background since, as Cesar told his mate, If I can’t watch the game, I can at least listen to it from here. Trick was constantly touching Frankie—toying with the ends of her hair, rubbing his jaw against her temple, pressing light kisses to her cheek, skimming his fingers over the back of her hand—reassuring her that he was there, that she wasn’t alone, and keeping her wolf steady. Aside from the moment where she almost knocked her wine over, everything went pretty well. The food was spectacular. For their first course, they had tomato soup with hot, freshly baked rolls. The second course was steak, ribs, fried onions, and chunky fries with a side salad. For dessert Clara brought out a Mississippi mud pie in honor of Iris, as it had been a favorite of hers. Before anyone could cut the pie, Lydia piped up. Wait! She pulled out her cell phone. I have to snap a picture of this to show Grace. She’ll think it’s amazing. The ice tinkled against the glass as Clara lifted her drink and said, I noticed that you and Trick were close, Frankie, but I didn’t think you were mates. I was so caught up with what was happening with Iris that I wasn’t really paying much attention. Did she know? Frankie nodded. I told her. A smile curled Clara’s mouth. I’m glad. That will have eased her worries for you. We talked about you during her last few days, and she said how wonderful you were. She was proud of the person you’ve become. It broke her heart that you’d felt so alone all these years. I know you had your maternal relatives, but a wolf without a pack can often feel very lonely. I suppose they weren’t happy to hear you’ve moved to pack territory, guessed Cesar. Frankie bit her lower lip. They don’t know yet. Under the table, Trick rested his hand on her knee and gave it a comforting squeeze. Cesar sighed. I’m sorry that things have worked out this way, Frankie, and you’ve been forced to choose, but I can’t be sorry for their sake. They caused Iris a lot of pain when they kept you from her. Feeling unexpectedly defensive of them, she said, They’re not awful people. Of course they’re not. Clara cut into the pie and began serving everyone pieces. They love you, Frankie. Always have. I must admit, I was initially worried that they wouldn’t accept you at all. Why? asked Cam, taking the word right out of Frankie’s mouth. We were overjoyed when we heard Caroline was pregnant, said Clara. It never occurred to me that they might not be so pleased. But I found her sitting under her willow tree behind her cabin, crying. They were already upset with her for giving up her teacher’s job, even though she’d been unhappy at the school, and she thought that hearing she was pregnant might appease them. It didn’t. Lydia sighed. They’d hoped she’d one day leave Christopher. Confused, Frankie said, But my parents were mated. Yes, but I don’t think the Newmans quite understand the concept of true mates. Cesar paused, stroking his mustache. In fact, I don’t think they want to understand. Clara nodded, but she didn’t speak until she’d swallowed the food she was chewing. Iris once told me that she overheard Caroline telling her mother how amazing it was to find and bond with the other half of your soul—that she felt complete. Her mother told her not to be so adolescent and foolish, said there was no such thing as soul mates and that Caroline needed to wake up and see that she didn’t belong here. Sounds like something Marcia would say, Frankie thought as she forked up some pie. I don’t believe that your grandmother is a bad person, Clara went on. Not at all. But I think she felt like she was losing Caroline. Her daughter used to live quite close to her. Suddenly she was living on pack territory, surrounded by other people and madly in love with a male who had a bond with her that no other connection could ever surpass.Trick draped his arm over the back of Frankie’s chair and drew circles on her shoulder. Marcia felt threatened by the mating bond. Brad seemed to feel the same way, said Cesar. Christopher was an interloper in their eyes. I’m not sure how much Brad understood about true mates, but I know his parents didn’t believe in any kind of metaphysical bond. They thought Caroline could walk away from Christopher if she ever chose to do so. They thought he’d brainwashed her into believing that she was stuck with him. Nothing Caroline said seemed to make any difference. Clara caught Frankie’s gaze as she said, Although your grandparents weren’t pleased about the pregnancy, they doted on you. Didn’t they, Cesar? Oh yes, he agreed. They were so proud, especially as you looked the image of Caroline when she was a child. They even softened toward Christopher, after a while. Unfortunately, Brad didn’t. He remained very hostile toward your father, but he loved you. ‘My Frankie,’ Brad called you. Finished with her pie, Clara dabbed her mouth with a soft napkin. The point I’m trying to make is that there were always sides, even before your parents left this world. Caroline often felt torn and sad that she’d disappointed her family. But she made her decision to be with Christopher; she stuck to it. Eventually they softened. Not completely, but enough that they didn’t leave her life. Maybe they’ll soften for you, in time. It may seem highly unlikely now, but it is possible. Frankie wasn’t all that convinced of that, but she gave a short nod. Wendel said that Caroline took to pack life like she was a shifter. Clara’s smile turned nostalgic. Oh, she did. The day Christopher brought her here, he was the envy of the pack. All the males were sweet on her. She was just so bright and hopeful and fresh, like an ethereal fairy. None of them ever poached, of course, but they did envy your father. She only had eyes for him, and vice versa. Tilting her head slightly, Frankie asked, Did anyone ever give him trouble over it? Oh no. If your parents hadn’t been true mates, it’s possible that someone would have challenged him for her. But nothing could be gained from challenging a male for his true mate—to break the bond would be to kill her, so there would be no prize. Exhaling heavily, Clara shook her head sadly. Everyone was devastated by her death. They were even devastated by Christopher’s, despite what he’d done. He was one of us. We all loved him. Frankie poked her tongue into the inside of her cheek. Is it usual for pack members to own a gun? Cesar blinked. No. We were surprised to find out that he possessed one. Josh has a rifle, but it’s a keepsake of some kind; he doesn’t use it. Doesn’t need it. Shifters fight with tooth and claw, so there was no need for Christopher to own a gun. I think that was why some believed he was suicidal. But I don’t believe he bought a firearm contemplating ending his own life. He had no reason to want to die. It didn’t make sense. Many things made no sense, in Frankie’s opinion. Do you have any of his things? No, why? asked Clara. I have some of my mom’s things. Marcia gave them to me. I have Caroline’s scent. But I don’t have his. Her face softened with understanding. I’m pretty sure Iris boxed up his belongings and put them in her attic. Clara got up, disappeared into the den, and then quickly returned. Here. This is the key to her cabin. You’re welcome to take anything of his as a keepsake. Iris would want that, and so would he. Taking the key, Frankie nodded. Thank you. Me and Cam will wait here, Lydia told her. You should have privacy for something like that. Well, obviously, you won’t have total privacy—Trick will be with you. But I think you’d rather have him there anyway. Frankie smiled. Well, how else am I going to reach the high shelves, chase off spiders, or pick up heavy boxes? Snorting, Trick threaded his fingers with hers and then tugged her to her feet. Come on. Let’s get it done. Clara followed them to the front door. Oh, Frankie, you asked about the sculpture. It only occurred to me later that you may have been interested about it because it was one of yours—especially with it being somewhat creepy. Is that why you asked? At Frankie’s nod, she said, Thought so. Well, I asked around, tried to find out who bought it. No one seems to know. Veiling her disappointment, Frankie gave her a grateful smile. All right. Thanks. Outside, she spoke to Trick. Maybe Abigail can track the buyer of the sculpture. I’ll ask her. Good idea. Trick walked her to the SUV. You sure you want to do this? I’m sure. All right. He opened the passenger door for her. Get in. Minutes later, they pulled up outside Iris’s cabin. Except for the birds chirping and the leaves rustling, it was eerily quiet. She spared her childhood cabin a brief glance before crossing to Iris’s front door. She unlocked it, but Trick stepped inside first—the protective move made her smile. As she walked inside, her brows lifted. I’m surprised no one has started packing up her stuff. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed. Lydia wanted to start straightaway, but Clara’s not ready yet—she wants to give it a few weeks, Trick explained. Lydia agreed to give her time. He led the way up the stairs and searched the ceiling until he found the hatch door for the attic. Here it is. He shoved it open and extended the fold-down staircase. I’ll go first and make sure the ladder’s stable. Frankie rolled her eyes. I think I’ll be fine. Indulge me, he said, climbing up the wooden rungs. The ladder wobbled only slightly. Reaching the top, Trick glanced around the attic. He ignored the pull-string light. As shifters, they could see just fine in the dark. Quick warning: it doesn’t smell great up here. I can handle it, Frankie assured him. But when she joined him, she put her sleeve to her nose, grimacing at the scents of mold, mothballs, stale air, and mildew. Her wolf curled her upper lip in distaste. I don’t think anyone’s been up here in a while. Rays of moonlight speared through the single window, illuminating the dust motes in the air. My wolf doesn’t like the tight space. Neither does mine. Trick stepped forward but then paused as a loose floorboard almost gave beneath his feet. Let’s not stay up here too long. Works for me. The dusty floorboards creaked as they walked, passing trunks, sheet-covered furniture, an old record player, children’s toys, and sealed, labeled boxes. The sight of the cradle in the corner tugged a smile out of her. She stubbed her toe on something and hissed. Motherfucker. Looking down, she realized she’d almost knocked over a painting propped up against a large chest. Crouching down, Trick took a good look at it. This could be one of Christopher’s. He liked to paint landscapes. Maybe this chest could have his old stuff in it, then, mused Frankie.

Maybe. Trick moved the painting out of her way. Want to do the honors yourself? Yes. Crouching beside him, she flicked open the metal hinge and shoved up the heavy lid, wincing at the loud creak. The chest shook, and dust clouded the air. She turned her face away, covering her nose. Damn. Hey, looks like you were right. Frankie turned back to the chest. At the top was a framed portrait of a teenage Christopher. She looked at it for a moment and then carefully placed it on the floor. She flipped through the other items—there were clothes, books, baseball cards, sports medals, and . . . Nice. She lifted the chain. At first the pendants looked like military dog tags. But then she realized that one of the tags was thicker than the other. I think it’s a locket. Open it. Using her nail, she pried it open. There was a photo on either side—one of Caroline and one of Frankie as a toddler. Swallowing hard, she closed the locket and looked at the thinner dog tag. Engraved on it was To the best mate a woman could wish for. Happy birthday, Chris. When she went to return it to the chest, Trick gently shackled her wrist and said, You should take the locket. Her brow creased. But— Your parents would want you to have that, just as you would if the situation were reversed. This meant something to them, just as you do. Clara said you were welcome to take something as a keepsake. Yeah, but this is jewelry. It looks expensive. When people come to pack Iris’s things, they’ll take all this stuff too. A lot of it will be thrown away or donated to charity. Lydia would probably see this and keep it, but she’d then give it to you anyway. No one would begrudge you taking it. She twisted her mouth, torn. Maybe she should ask Lydia first and— Trick took it from her and shoved it in his pocket. There. Now I’ve taken it. Your conscience is clear. Frankie softly snorted in amusement. If I wasn’t busy, I’d make a citizen’s arrest. She lifted one of Christopher’s shirts to her nose. Beneath the smell of stale cotton was . . . Earthy musk, dark chocolate orange, and . . . Caroline. I remember this smell. For some reason her eyes filled. I didn’t remember hers as clearly as I do his. That makes no sense. I have some of her old things. Yes, but those things probably belonged to her before she mated with Christopher, so her scent would be slightly different on those. You only knew your parents when their scents were intertwined, he pointed out. Damn, she hadn’t thought of it that way. If you were to find something that belonged to her after she mated with Christopher, her scent would then be as memorable to you as his is. Trick flicked a look at the shirt. How do you feel when you inhale his scent? It makes me feel safe and happy, she admitted in a low voice. Until the end, you were safe, and you were happy. Some think Christopher killed himself because he didn’t want to live without her, but wouldn’t he have died from the severing of the bond anyway? Right. But most believe he wasn’t thinking clearly. He was acting on pure emotion. Emotion can make you do stupid things. I always thought it was more likely that he pulled that trigger because he hated himself for what he’d done to your mother and just couldn’t live with it a moment longer—that he didn’t think he deserved to live a moment longer. Maybe. Dust tickled the back of her throat, and she coughed. Ready to go? Yeah. I’m ready. She returned everything to the chest, secured it shut, and then stood upright. Rubbing her hands together to shake loose the dust, she said, I’m glad I did this. He gave her nape a light squeeze. Good. Turning, Trick ducked, careful not to knock his head on a wooden beam, and then crossed to the ladder. Wait. He glanced over his shoulder. What? But she didn’t answer. She was staring at a huge cardboard box. He stalked to her side and saw that Caroline’s things had been scribbled on the side of the box with a black marker. He also saw that someone had clawed through the masking tape, leaving the top flaps open. Peeking inside, he frowned. There’s nothing in there. Nothing? Frankie looked in the box. Why would someone take her stuff? He shrugged. Maybe Iris sent whatever was in here to your grandparents. Just because they didn’t give you anything of Caroline’s from after she was mated doesn’t mean that they don’t actually have anything. I guess you’re right. It just seemed odd to Frankie that the empty box had been left behind. Come on. He led the way out of the attic, closed the hatch behind them, and then guided her down the stairs. As they were passing the shelves, Trick paused. Want to take the sculpture? She’d rather you have it than anyone else. She’d have liked that it came full circle. Frankie nodded. Grab it. Outside she took a deep breath, breathing in the clean air. As they dusted off their clothes, her gaze was drawn to her childhood cabin. I want to go in there. Trick stiffened, and his wolf growled in objection. Frankie, you’ve already put yourself through something emotionally taxing tonight. Actually, it wasn’t taxing. I feel better for it. Which tremendously surprised her. I’m glad, but you won’t feel better for walking through that place. Maybe not. But it’s just something I feel I have to do. Is it something you really have to do right now? Because we’re both covered in dust, and Lydia and Cam are waiting for us. You said that going through your father’s things has helped you feel better. Take the time to enjoy that. Frankie eyed him curiously. She could feel his anxiety through the bond. Why don’t you want me to go inside? Trick crossed to her and curved his hand around her neck. Because I know you’re hoping that something will jog your memory of that night, even though it’s highly unlikely. Lots of things make no sense for you. You want answers. I get it, and I don’t blame you for that. But it will only hurt you when it doesn’t work. I’ve told you before, no one hurts my mate—not even her. I’m not expecting to have flashbacks. I was so young when it happened . . . But you’re hoping that you somehow miraculously will. You’re still mad at yourself because you buried the memories and you can’t seem to get them back. Frankie ground her teeth. It really was annoying just how well he read her. Look, if you really feel you have to do this, I’ll make it happen. I’ll get permission from Josh to go through the place. But can we not do it tonight? Going through your father’s things was huge for you—even though it turned out to be a good thing, it still wasn’t easy. Let’s take it one step at a time. He rested his forehead against hers. Please. For me. She took in a long breath. Okay. His face softened. Okay. Shivering, Frankie rubbed her upper arms. It was cold and dark and dusty in the display room. The eyes of her sculptures were closed. They were sleeping. She had to be quiet.She tiptoed through the door that led to the studio. But when she walked through the door, she wasn’t in the studio—no, the door had led her right back into the display room. She saw a hatch door above her head. She opened it, pulled down the staircase, and climbed the steps. And she found herself back in the display room. Trick was there. He was staring at The Face. It wasn’t twisted in pain, not while it was asleep. Trick looked at her. I don’t like it when you hurt yourself. You have to stop. She closed her eyes and took a breath. When she opened them, Trick was gone. Iris was there, looking as hale and hearty as she did in her photos, and there were puzzle pieces all over the floor. Don’t pick them up, Iris told her. Leave them where they are. Let it lie, Frankie. The pieces suddenly rose off the floor and began to orbit around Frankie. They moved too fast for her to really see any of them. She looked back at Iris, but she wasn’t there anymore. Where are—? The pieces froze in the air. Fell to the ground. She could smell gun oil and gunpowder and blood. Beneath those was his scent—rain, brine, and burned wood. She noticed then that The Face had woken, and his eyes bore into hers—eyes that were now human and familiar, yet not. You’re supposed to be in bed, Frankie. Her eyes snapped open, and she drew in a shuddering breath, clenching her hand around the coverlet. The arm that was curled around her from behind twisted her to face Trick, and she let him pull her flush against him. He kissed the top of her head. Another nightmare? She just nodded, keeping her face buried in his chest. Talk to me, Frankie. Your heart is pounding like crazy, and my wolf is raring to get out and hunt down whatever scared you. Tell me about the nightmare. She swallowed. I think someone other than my parents was there the night my mother was killed. The hand stroking her back stilled. Who? He smelled like rain, brine, and burned wood. I smell that scent every time I’m around Clara’s sons, but since they’re triplets they all smell the same. Trick resumed stroking her back, petting the anxiety out of her. He hated the tremor in her voice. His wolf rubbed up against her, trying to comfort her. What makes you think he was there that night? he asked softly. I smell that scent as well as the gunpowder. And then a voice tells me that I’m supposed to be in bed. Sliding his fingers into her hair, Trick tugged her head back and said gently, That doesn’t mean that anyone else was there that night. I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying this could be your brain trying to put all the pieces together and mixing them into one dream. She couldn’t even argue with that. The human eyes on The Face hadn’t been eyes that belonged to any of Clara’s sons. The picture forming from the pieces she had didn’t make sense. And she had to consider that just maybe she wanted to believe someone else had been there because she didn’t want her father to be guilty. Since her wolf reacted so badly to the triplets’ scent, they were convenient scapegoats, weren’t they? Still . . . I feel like my subconscious is trying to tell me something. I don’t think I’m remembering what happened. Just that my subconscious has picked up on something that I’ve overlooked. Something important. Trick rubbed his nose against hers. I don’t know what that could be, he whispered. Neither did she. CHAPTER FIFTEEN As Frankie walked through the arched door of the underground nightclub a week later, her brows lifted in surprise. It was nothing like a usual club. The lighting was dim, and the dance floor was full, but there was no thumping overloud music, no stale hot air, and no flashing strobe lights. The club had both style and class. With the redbrick walls and the arched ceiling, she felt like she was in a large train tunnel or something. The place belonged to the Mercury Pack and was allegedly run by its only margay wildcat, Harley. Apparently the females of the pack were anxious to meet Frankie, so Taryn had suggested that the females of both packs all meet up at the club for a girls’ night. So they were having a girls’ night. Only with Trick and Marcus. The males were there for protection, they said—like the females weren’t badass enough to protect themselves. A few weeks back, Frankie might have been relieved to have Trick there. Now, though, she felt more settled in the pack. She wouldn’t go as far as to say she’d bonded with her pack mates; Frankie didn’t bond easily with anyone. But she’d grown to enjoy their company and feel more relaxed around them, especially Jaime and Makenna. Trick put his mouth to her ear. What do you think? It’s a nice place. Not everyone was dolled up in dresses. Like Frankie, some wore jeans, pretty shirts, and high heels. Overhearing that, Jaime smiled. It is, isn’t it? Harley didn’t make many changes when she took it over. She liked the look and feel of the place. Trick stayed at Frankie’s side as they all shouldered their way through the crowd, heading for the bar. Taryn walked right up to the olive-skinned brunette tending the bar. Hey, Ally, everything okay? The bartender grinned. Great. Just give me a sec. She slid a tray of neon-colored drinks to a waitress and then turned back to them. What about you guys? Please tell me you’ve brought Frankie. I’ve been dying to— Ally spotted her and then smiled. Well, hey. Aren’t you just the cutest thing? I’m Ally, the Mercury Pack’s Beta female. Frankie knew her smile was a little on the shy side. It’s nice to meet you. You too. I have to say, I was fascinated to hear how you two figured out you were mates without any drama or near-death experiences to open your minds. You recognized her on sight, right? she asked Trick. That’s right, he confirmed, sliding his arm around her waist. Frankie bit her lip, admitting, It took me a couple of weeks to figure it out. Ally sighed. Yeah, it took me and Derren a little while, even though the signs were all there. She crossed her eyes as if annoyed with herself. She pointed to a group of people in the corner. That’s my mate over there. Derren’s the dark-haired one. The guy he’s standing next to is Zander, an enforcer, who’s mated to the blonde human in the little shorts—she’s Gwen. The redhead standing next to her is Shaya, our Alpha female . . . oh, and she’s just spotted us. As Shaya took Gwen’s hand and started pulling her through the throng of people, Ally asked, So what are you all having? Taryn had just finished placing orders when Shaya sidled up to them. She threw her arms around Taryn, and it was clear just how close they were. According to Trick, they’d been friends since childhood. After the females quickly exchanged greetings, Taryn turned to the newcomers. Girls, this is Frankie. Frankie, this is Shaya and Gwen. Shaya beamed at Frankie. We’ve really wanted to go to Phoenix territory to meet you, but Taryn didn’t want you feeling any more overwhelmed than you already do. Damn, you’re so cute. Isn’t she just adorable, Ally? Utterly, said Ally, still preparing their drinks. Even cuter than Jazz, and that’s saying something.

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