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“I was worried that you’d hate us the way your grandparents do. It was more comfortable to not know. But my father, Alfie, died of a heart attack recently—it was very sudden. My mother, Iris, has been deteriorating ever since. Mates usually don’t survive long without the other. She wants to see you just once. Of course, she’d love more, love to know you, but she doesn’t expect anything of you.”

“Why did he kill my mother?”

Lydia swallowed. “I don’t know. Christopher adored Caroline. He really did. What happened shocked everyone.”

“Was he on drugs?”

“Drugs? No. But a human reporter started that rumor. Another claimed he had to have been mentally ill. Both were wrong. Christopher wasn’t suicidal either.” Lydia sighed. “I really wish I could tell you why he did it, but I just don’t know. The only person who was there that night was you, but you weren’t what anyone could really consider a witness.”

“But you wanted me to say something that would vindicate him.” Frankie’s tone dared her to deny it, and Lydia looked . . . hurt.

“No one ever tried to brainwash you into believing or disbelieving anything. Our main concern was you—you were traumatized, you needed help and family.”

“And yet none of you were there.”

“We would have been if it were possible.”

Knowing it was unreasonable to snap at Lydia for something that was beyond her control, Frankie sighed. “I’m not mad at you for not being around.” Just disappointed and a little hurt. “And I don’t blame you for what your brother did. Maybe that’s because I haven’t quite digested it yet. But I just found out yesterday that much of what I grew up believing was a lie. I wouldn’t have thought my grandparents and uncle would lie to me like that, but they did. So I’m real wary on what and who I can believe right now.”

Lydia slowly nodded. “Understandable. We’ll probably never know what happened that night. But if you want to learn about your father, about the other half of your family and your pack mates, you have that chance now. I’m not going to put you on the spot and ask you to make that decision here and now. That wouldn’t be fair.”

Lydia pulled a pen out of her purse and scribbled on a napkin. She then slid it across the table. “Here’s my number. If you can find it in you to come, just call and we can arrange something.” With what looked like extreme reluctance, Lydia rose. “Bye, Frankie. I really hope you call.”

On guard, Ryan took the lead as he, Lydia, and Cam crossed to the door. Trick lingered and twisted slightly in his seat to face Frankie as he asked, “You all right?”

Frankie sighed, resting her elbows on the table. “Fine.”

Bullshit. Trick guessed she was probably feeling let down by both sides of her family—one side for deceiving her, and the other side for not being around. Helpless against the need to comfort her, Trick rested a hand on her nape and gave it a little squeeze. “You have every right to be mad at the pack—don’t say you’re not, of course you are. We should have been there for you every step of the way. We weren’t. But we’re here now. We want to know you. You’re ours.”

She frowned at the possessive statement, though a part of her liked the sense of belonging that it brought her. A part of her also liked the proprietary edge to his touch. Nonetheless, Frankie shifted in her seat, making his hand fall away. “I was born into the Bjorn Pack, not the Phoenix Pack.”

“Doesn’t matter. It’s not like you supported Trey’s banishment—you weren’t even there. I get that you love your maternal family and you don’t want to hurt them by getting to know us. But they’ve had you to themselves for the last twenty-four years. Can’t we at least have a day of your life? Would that be so bad? None of us want you to turn your back on the Newmans. This is about you, not them.”

Trick grabbed the napkin on which Lydia had written her number and pushed it into Frankie’s hand. “Call her when you’re ready.”

The very last thing Trick wanted to do was leave Frankie. No, he wanted to do exactly as he’d always envisioned he’d do on finding his true mate—declare she was his, take her home, and claim her as his own. But with Frankie he needed to tread carefully.

Right then she was far from open to him. Announcing that she was his true mate would overwhelm and scare her off. In fact, it was unlikely that she’d believe him anyway; she’d probably think that he was simply playing her in the hope that it would lure her to the pack.

This situation was going to require patience, understanding, and finesse. While it would agonize him to walk away, her needs came first. So he forced himself to rise and said, “It was good to see you, Frankie. I’ll talk to you again soon.”

One brow rose at the sheer confidence in that statement. “Will you?”

“Yeah, I will.” Allowing himself the small luxury of skimming his fingers over her hair, Trick headed for the door. His wolf snapped his teeth in anger, lunging for her hard. Trick fought his desperate attempts to surface, half-surprised he didn’t sprout fur.

Soon, he promised his wolf. Soon she’d belong irrevocably to them. But his wolf wasn’t placated. The animal didn’t just covet and crave Frankie; he wanted to keep her close, where he could be sure she was safe.

His pack mates were already in the SUV when he hopped into the passenger seat. Ryan looked at him, face twisted into the scowl that seemed to be his default expression, and asked, “What was that about?”

“What?”

“The delay. What were you talking about?”

“I was just trying to convince her to take a chance on the pack.” Trick glanced at Lydia in the rearview mirror. “You okay?”

Lydia inhaled deeply. “The meeting went better than I thought it would. There was no yelling or condemning.”

Trick nodded. “She impressed me.”

“Why?” asked Ryan, reversing out of the parking space.

“I’d already figured that her grandparents fed her some lies,” Trick replied. “She didn’t do the textbook ‘I don’t know who I am now that I know my past is a lie.’ Apart from the odd snippy comment, she didn’t throw accusations around or take out her anger at Christopher or the situation on Lydia.” He met her gaze in the rearview mirror again. “I mean, you’re the closest thing to him right now, Lydia, but she didn’t lash out. She’s a cool one.”

“It would be a shock to find out that your parent killed someone,” said Ryan. “Especially if that someone was your other parent. As Frankie said, she hasn’t properly processed it all yet. Once she does, she might act differently.”

Cam linked his fingers with Lydia’s as he asked, “Do you think she’ll call?”

Trick twisted his mouth. “Yeah, I do.” Hell, she’d do more than call and visit their territory. Sooner or later she’d be living there. He didn’t say that, though, because he already knew what would happen—Lydia would panic, thinking he might scare Frankie away, and ask him to keep his distance from her. He wouldn’t even be able to blame Lydia for that, considering the situation was already complicated enough. But staying away from Frankie wasn’t something he could do, so he’d keep quiet about his discovery for now.

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