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“Nope.”

“How does your wolf feel around me? Threatened? Edgy?”

“She likes you.”

He smiled, since he’d half expected her to claim that her wolf didn’t want him around. “I like that you’re honest, Frankie. Far too many people aren’t.” Closing the distance between them in one fluid stride, Trick traced her cheekbones with his thumbs, all the while drinking in every curve, every line, every dent, every freckle on her face. “I’d like to sketch you.”

“Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

Trick laughed. His wolf was delighted with her. She was unexpected in the best ways. “I’m serious. I like sketching. It relaxes me. The same way I’m thinking that sculpting relaxes you.”

Her nose wrinkled. “It’s not relaxing in a way that makes me feel peaceful.”

“Then how?”

Since he sounded genuinely interested, she replied, “I can disappear in it. It’s energizing and tiring and rewarding.”

Noticing she was flexing and wiggling her fingers, he frowned. “What’s wrong with your hand?”

“It just gets stiff.” She dismissed it with a flick of her wrist, but he took her hand and began massaging it. Damn if it didn’t feel good. Still . . . “I’m not going to sleep with you.”

His mouth slowly curled on one side. “That’s all right. I’m not going to sleep with you either.”

“So why are you here, flirting with me and stuff, if you don’t want me?”

“I didn’t say that I don’t want you. I said I’m not going to sleep with you. That’s just too light a term for what I’m going to do to you.”

A blush crept up her neck. “Oh really?”

“Really.” Using his grip on her hand, he pulled her closer and spoke in a low voice. “I’m going to take you. Possess you. Fuck you so hard you’ll never want anyone else. And when we’re done, I’ll do it again.”

Damn if her pussy didn’t clench at that. Frankie narrowed her eyes. “Cocky.”

Trick put his finger to her mouth. “Don’t say it won’t happen, or when you do give in to me—and you will, Frankie—you’ll think it makes you weak. You’re not weak. I wouldn’t want you if you were.” He shrugged, adding, “Some things are simply inevitable. Me taking you is just one of those things.”

Her stomach fluttered. Not just at his declaration, but at the way those brown eyes drifted over her face, warm and possessive. It made her wolf release a low growl of contentment, which was out of the norm. Frustrated and horny, Frankie jutted out her chin. “I have work to do.”

Sensing her arousal, Trick smiled, satisfied. “All right.” He pressed a kiss to her palm and then released it. “I told you I’m not here for Lydia or Iris, and I’m not. But I want to say one thing about it. I know this situation is fucked up and you’re not sure what to think, feel, or believe. But I get the sense that if Iris died tomorrow before you had the chance to meet her, you’d regret that you didn’t. Am I right?”

“Maybe.”

“Then I’d say the decision you have to make isn’t whether you want to give your paternal family a chance; it’s whether you want to live with the regret that you didn’t.” He cupped her chin and stroked her jaw with his thumb. “Take care, Frankie, yeah?” It was a soft demand. He needed to be sure that she’d be fine.

“Always do,” she said. He lightly brushed his mouth over her temple, and then he was gone. Frankie took in a centering breath. Damn, the wolf was potent. Nothing like the guys she was used to—they were strong and self-assured, yeah, but none of them carried that air of supreme, unshakable confidence that came with knowing you could handle any situation with total ease. It was hot and admirable and her wolf absolutely loved it.

The animal wasn’t at all happy that he’d left. She lay down, sulking. It was odd. Her wolf had liked Frankie’s past partners well enough, but not like this. She hadn’t wanted their company, hadn’t particularly enjoyed having them around. Really, it was more like she’d tolerated them for Frankie’s sake.

For the first time, her wolf wanted a male. Strangely, she also wanted to hold back from him a little. Not out of wariness, but to . . . test him. To see what he was made of and if he was worthy of . . . something.

Deciding it was pointless to try to understand it, Frankie turned back to her sculpture.

The following day, Trick accompanied Trey, Dante, and Dominic as they ventured to the local park for their meeting with Nash Morelli. It was a hot day, so there were many people around—sunbathers, cyclists, dog walkers, families, kids playing ball. Trick hoped the meeting didn’t go to shit, because there would be a hell of a lot of witnesses if it did.

Morelli was already sitting at the picnic table when they arrived; five wolves stood behind him, on guard. Without a word Trey sat opposite Morelli. Dante stood solidly behind Trey while Trick and Dominic planted themselves on either side of their Beta. For a moment no one said anything. Just stayed still, sizing one another up.

Morelli was a big bastard. Thick neck, roped arms, thighs like tree trunks. He also had a wide grin that would have been charismatic if it weren’t for its sly curve.

There was a similar grin on his Beta’s face. Drake had a reputation for being . . . well, to be blunt, a fucking asshole. After being kicked out of his previous pack for slitting his sister’s throat, Drake had earned protection and money as a gun for hire until Morelli took him into his sad excuse for a pack.

Taking the cigar from his mouth, Morelli shifted in his seat, making his leather vest creak. “Well, damn, if it isn’t Trey Coleman. I’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time.” He ran his gaze along Dante, Dominic, and Trick. His eyes lit up. “Ah, it’s the YouTube hero. I’ve heard plenty about you. One of my wolves knows you. He says you can be brutal when the situation calls for it. That’s why he found it so damn funny that the humans see you as a hunky hero.”

The wolf was right, but Trick said nothing.

Morelli cut his gaze to Trey. “I always admired the way you challenged your old man. I heard enough to know he was a total prick and earned that beating you gave him. People don’t always get what they deserve. It’s refreshing when someone does.”

Trey didn’t react. Just watched the other Alpha, expression blank. It didn’t seem to discourage Morelli at all. His wide grin remained in place.

“I sure do like your territory,” said Morelli. “I mean, I haven’t been able to see a lot of it, since you have that big fence and all. But it’s vast and well protected. I heard you actually live inside one of the mountains. Is that true?”

“If you’re planning on challenging me to take over my pack and seize my territory, it won’t end well for you,” Trey warned.

Morelli took a pull on his cigar and then blew out a puff of smoke, tainting the collective scents of sun-warmed grass and flowering trees. “I’ll admit, the thought did cross my mind. But like I said, I admire how you dealt with your old man. Leaving the pack to create your own—that takes guts. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be smart of me to take on a male whose wolf turns feral during battle. Not to mention that you’re very well connected. The Mercury Pack in particular would seek revenge on anyone who brought harm to you or yours. I don’t want them on my ass any more than I want a feral wolf chewing a chunk out of my wolf’s ass.”

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