She whipped her Audi into a spot and switched off the engine. “So is there anything I need to know? I mean, are there rituals to this sort of thing? I don’t have to kneel before the Alphas, do I? Because that won’t happen.”
He smiled. “No, you don’t need to kneel before anyone. Just listen to your wolf; she’ll know what to do.”
Hopping out of the car, Frankie looked at the collection of vehicles. The pack sure did like SUVs. She should have objected when Trick linked his fingers with hers and tugged her outside, but she didn’t. And she couldn’t have said why.
At the foot of the narrow stairway, Trick said, “After you.” Then he could stare at her ass as they climbed. Happy days. Halfway up, she stopped to look around. He frowned and asked, “You all right?”
“Yeah. I’ve just never been to a place like this. Never seen anything like it. My wolf wants out. She wants to roam and explore. I don’t blame her—it’s really amazing.”
It was good that she thought so, Trick mused, because it would be her home soon enough. “Later, after you’ve spoken to the pack and seen Iris, I’ll give you a tour.” He splayed his hand on her lower back and gently urged her on, and they started walking again. “Do your grandparents know you’re here?”
“No.” Frankie hadn’t told Brad either. She’d called him this morning, tiptoed around the subject of Lydia, and agreed to meet with him later that day. “They won’t be happy about it.”
“There’s no point in living to make other people happy, Frankie. We’re all responsible for own happiness anyway.” Finally they reached the main entrance to the caves. He carefully shouldered past her and rested a hand on the door. “Ready?”
Frankie rolled back her shoulders. “As I’ll ever be.” He opened the door, gesturing for her to enter first, and she suddenly found herself inside a large tunnel. It wasn’t dark and dull, as she might have expected. The smooth walls were light-cream sandstone that seemed to illuminate the tunnels, and she briefly skimmed her fingers along them.
“Everyone’s waiting in the living area.” Trick led her through the network of tunnels, keeping his pace slow so she could get a good look around.
As he guided her into the living area, everyone stood. It reminded him of the time when the juvenile of the pack, Zac, had first arrived. Ryan’s young cousin had been staying at the shelter where Makenna worked until they brought him into the pack. Maybe Zac was remembering it too, because his voice cut through the awkward silence.
“They weren’t kidding when they said you look harmless.”
Casting Zac an affectionate hushing look, Taryn stepped forward and smiled at Frankie. “I’m Taryn, Alpha female. This is my mate, Trey, and he’s holding our son, Kye. Welcome to Phoenix Pack territory.”
Frankie nodded at the dainty female. “Thanks.”
Trey inclined his head at her. “I doubt you’ll remember me. I really didn’t like girls much back then—I used to shove daisies down the back of your dress.”
Frankie’s mouth twitched. “I hope I didn’t take that lying down.”
“No, you didn’t. You used to charge at me like a bull.”
“I remember that,” said Lydia, looking like she wanted to embrace Frankie. She refrained. “I’m so glad you came.”
Taryn quickly went on. “Let me introduce you to everyone. Obviously you know Lydia and Cam. Standing next to them are Grace, Rhett, and their little girl, Lilah. Over there near the back wall are the Beta pair, Jaime and Dante, and some of our enforcers, Marcus, Roni, and Dominic. There’s Ryan, who you met at the coffeehouse, standing with his mate, Makenna, and his cousin, Zac. The sleeping pup in Makenna’s arms is Sienna Rose. The woman over there looking miserable and disapproving is Trey’s grandmother, Greta—an accident of nature.
“Last but not least, we have this little cluster of people near the sofa. Hope is Gabe’s mate, Tao is the Head Enforcer, and Riley is the pack’s Guardian. The little girl with the pigtails is Savannah, and the little blond boy with the bulging pockets is Dexter—they belong to Tao and Riley, who are mates.”
Feeling awkward and a little overwhelmed by the overflow of information, Frankie did a slow nod. “It’s nice to meet all of you.” Some of them looked at her with a familiarity that made her uncomfortable. Others just looked curious, particularly the kids, who stared at her. Greta, though, was eyeing Frankie with suspicion.
Dominic stepped forward, a weird grin on his face, but Dante fisted the guy’s shirt and pulled him back with a firm shake of his head.
“Iris wanted to be here to greet you,” began Trey, “but she can’t leave her bed much.”
“She’s super excited to see you,” said Lydia. “I’m under strict orders to take you straight to her. That okay with you?”
Frankie gave an easy shrug. “Sure.”
As Lydia started to lead her out of the room, Trick quietly asked Frankie, “You’ll be all right?”
Satisfied, he nodded. “If you need anything, call.” He didn’t turn back to the pack until she’d disappeared down the tunnels.
“She really doesn’t remember any of us, does she?” said Jaime, sounding sad.
Dante draped his arm around his mate’s shoulders. “Maybe it’s better that way. If she remembered us, she’d likely also remember her father killing her mother.”
Jaime, who’d witnessed the death of her own parents, said, “You’re totally right. It’s better for her this way. Still, it’s hard. As kids, we played together and tormented the boys together, but she only sees a stranger when she looks at me.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t be friends now, does it?” Dante nuzzled his mate. “I’m sure she could do with a friend right now.”
“I think Trick’s already filled that position,” said Trey.
Ignoring the speculation in the Alpha’s eyes, Trick said, “You can never have too many friends.”
Stopping outside a thick oak door, Lydia spoke quietly to Frankie. “Don’t be nervous. She knows you don’t remember her. No one’s expecting an emotional response from you that you can’t give. She’d just like to talk to you and—”
“Stop muttering outside the room and let me get a look at the girl,” a croaky voice called out.
Lydia rolled her eyes and opened the door. Frankie followed her inside, quite surprised to see that the space looked like a luxury hotel suite. It had all the basics—bed, TV, plush chair, table, bedside cabinet, triple wardrobe with mirrored doors. There was even a balcony and a private bathroom.
Frankie’s attention was drawn to the woman in the bed, who was propped up on pillows. She studied Frankie through blue eyes that seemed to have dulled slightly with age. She looked pale and weak, but not defeated. Her gray hair was pulled into a tidy bun, and its shade made Frankie think of doves. Then the woman smiled, and her whole face seemed to light up.
“Well, I’ll be damned. You look just like me when I was your age.”
Mouth curved, Lydia sighed at her mother. “She does not. You have the same eyes—that’s pretty much it.”
Iris sent her daughter a mock glare. “Are you saying I wasn’t beautiful?”