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It represented the front half of a horse’s body, yet it didn’t look incomplete. More like it was in the middle of leaping from another dimension or something like that. It was entirely black metal—some parts were thick and smooth and curled slightly, almost like ribbons. Other pieces were so thin they looked more like mesh or metal string.

The creature was in midlunge, legs extended, mouth open, eyes like angry slits, broken chains hanging from its ankles. The wings were huge yet ragged, as if the creature had been left alone to rot and wither. It had broken free of its restraints, but it wasn’t lunging for freedom. It was lunging for its captor. Lunging for vengeance. Or at least that was how it seemed to him.

He turned to Frankie, enjoying the simple luxury of looking at his mate. She was wearing blue coveralls that did nothing for her slim figure. Yet there was still something sexy about the picture she made right then.

When Trick had walked in, his wolf had reacted instantly and fiercely to the sight of her; he’d leaped so hard and fast to the surface that Trick would have shifted if he hadn’t had such iron control. Well, maybe not iron control, given that his cock was so painfully hard and heavy that it hurt to walk.

He’d never wanted anything as much as he wanted Frankie Newman. Just looking at her made his gut twist with a fierce sexual need. The sight of her also brought him a supreme joy that nothing else could equal.

He’d woken more than once during the night, his cock full and aching, the image of her face in his mind. He’d showered several times since first meeting her, but her scent still haunted him every moment of the day. It seemed to live inside him now, like it had sunk into his pores. He’d know it anywhere.

Trick’s eyes involuntarily dropped to her lush mouth. He wanted it under his. Wanted to lick and taste and bite. “What made you decide to make a hellhorse?”

“I didn’t. Sometimes I don’t really know what I’m going to create until I actually start the piece.”

That surprised him. “Is that a bad thing?”

“Not for me. If I spend a lot of time pondering what I’m going to do, I overthink it. The fun is in the creative process itself, watching it come together little by little. I guess it’s like when you tell a story—there are stages to it. I’m not a writer, but I don’t think I’d like to know the end of a story before I wrote it. Part of the buzz would come from watching what happens in my head and writing each part down as it comes.”

He nodded. “So you shove your consciousness out of the way so you don’t think too much and can just go with it and see what happens.”

“Yeah. That’s exactly it.” Frankie wasn’t used to people understanding her. She wasn’t used to people wanting to understand. It took her off guard, but her wolf liked that he showed such interest in her.

“You’re not going to make the rear of its body, are you? Because it looks amazing as it is.”

“No, I’m not.” She skimmed her finger over the creature’s neck. “There isn’t much left for me to do now. Shouldn’t take me more than a few weeks to finish.” Realizing he was staring at her, she asked, “What?”

“It just amazes me that a person can make something like that. Really. I mean, it’s one thing to see a picture of a sculpture. It’s another thing to stand next to one, see it from every angle, and realize that someone actually made it by hand. Are all your sculptures so dark?”

“Most.” She shifted uncomfortably. “Look, if you’re here for Lydia or Iris—”

“I’m here to see you.”

Her pulse skittered. “Why?”

He’d just needed to be around her, check on her, and breathe her in. Also . . . “I was curious about you.” About where she lived and what kind of space she’d need for a studio, because Trick would have to make sure she had one on pack territory. He intended to make sure she had everything she needed to be happy there.

“Well, I’m pretty busy.”

“You can take a break, right? All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

She sighed at the dumb phrase. “Who is this Jack? And why should I care if he’s dull?”

Trick’s mouth quirked. “It’s just a turn of phrase.”

“Yeah, but I don’t understand the point in using proverbs when you have the option of saying something that makes perfect sense.”

He supposed she had a point, though he didn’t see why they annoyed her so much. “Okay, I’ll rephrase. Working too much isn’t good for you—you need to make time for fun.” Glimpsing a door ajar behind her, he asked, “What’s through there?”

“It’s my display room. I keep all my finished pieces in there.”

“Can I see?”

Since he was already heading right for it, Frankie grumbled, “I guess so.”

Trick pushed the door open and stalked inside. What could only be described as nightmarish sculptures filled the space. Among them was a gargoyle, a large face scrunched up in agony, a nun wearing an evil smile, and a creepy-looking kid on a chair. “Wow.”

While he studied her sculptures, Frankie studied him. Trick Hardy was something of a mystery to her. Why? Because she could sense that he did his best to downplay his dominance around her. It was a futile effort. He had a powerful presence. The air in the studio seemed charged with the compelling intensity that practically bounced off his skin like tiny little sparks. He could play the easygoing charmer all he wanted, but she wasn’t buying it. Not even with his slow, lazy smiles and the sexy swaggering gait.

Trick turned to her, surprised to find her watching him. “Jesus, Frankie, how did you make this stuff? Every piece is both eerie and captivating at the same time.” Her cheeks reddened at the compliment. Trick skimmed a knuckle over one of them, felt the heat of her blush. “Not used to people admiring your work, are you?” It made him wonder . . . “Do your grandparents approve of what you do?”

“Why wouldn’t they?”

“Neither of them are arty people, from what I remember. I just wondered if they’d find it hard to understand that you have a passion.” As her mouth clamped shut, Trick nodded and trailed the tip of his finger over the row of piercings on her ear. “Okay, I get it, you don’t want to bad-mouth them to someone you barely know. Loyalty is good.” He wanted some of that loyalty for himself.

Frankie stepped back, a little uncomfortable with how casually he touched her. No, a little uncomfortable that it didn’t bother her wolf the way it should. The animal generally didn’t like having her personal space invaded, but she didn’t seem to mind sharing it with Trick. “You’re pretty tactile, even for a shifter.”

“You’ll get used to it. Your wolf will let you know if I’m taking it too far. Has she ever surfaced?”

“Sure.”

“How old were you when it first happened?”

“Thirteen.” And she’d been scared out of her mind, because she hadn’t known what to do.

Trick’s eyes narrowed. “Tell me you didn’t do it alone.” Her eyes slid away, and he growled. “No one should be alone during their first shift. I’m sorry you were.” And he felt like shit about it. He was her mate; he should have been there. If she hadn’t gone to live with the Newmans, he would have been there. Those humans had a lot to fucking answer for. “So you’re not used to being around shifters?”

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