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“Don’t try to talk me in circles.”

Iris turned back to Frankie and gestured at the armchair beside her bed. “Come sit.” Once Frankie was seated, Iris clasped her hands and prompted, “So tell me about yourself.”

Frankie felt her brow furrow. “I’m pretty sure, from what Lydia told me, that you already know quite a lot.”

“I know some basic facts. I know where you live, where you went to school, what you do for a living, and I’m guessing you’ve left a trail of broken hearts wherever you’ve gone—I did the same.”

Lydia sighed again. “You did not.”

Iris ignored her. “Favorite color?”

“Yellow,” said Frankie.

“Favorite food?”

“Chocolate.”

“Favorite movie?”

“Role Models.”

“Favorite sex position?”

Frankie’s mouth curved. “There are too many to choose from.”

Iris let out a croaky laugh. “I like you. I was always partial to the reverse cowgirl.”

Lydia gasped. “Mother!”

“Although my mate liked the scissors—”

“Mom, stop, I’m begging you.”

Iris threw an impatient look at her daughter. “Really, Lydia, it’s not as if you’re new to sex.”

“I’m pretty sure that Frankie didn’t come all the way here to discuss the Kama Sutra.”

“It was simply a question,” Iris defended herself. Sliding her gaze back to Frankie, she said, “Tell me more.” She asked lots of questions, but they were casual and even funny at times. She wanted to know all about sculpting, Frankie’s time at school, and what her wolf’s personality was like. Basically—just as Lydia had said—Iris simply wanted to know her.

After a while Iris said, “Your head is probably pounding from all my questions. Feel free to ask me some, if there’s anything you want to know.”

Although Iris hadn’t once touched the subject of her parents, Frankie said, “I want to know about him. And yet I don’t.”

“I understand. Christopher was a pain in my ass.” Frankie’s surprise must have shown on her face, because Iris asked, “Oh, you thought I’d paint him as a misunderstood saint? No, I won’t do that. He wasn’t a bad person, but he could be damn irritating because he was stubborn, anal, and saw things in black and white. There were no gray areas for him. If you made a mistake, if you did him wrong, you were the bad guy. He wasn’t unforgiving, just slow to let any slights go. He was also temperamental, though I’m told that’s normal for artists.”

“He was an artist?”

“Liked to paint. He was pretty good. Not art gallery–worthy, but he had a lot of talent. He had many good qualities. He was loyal. Protective. Strong willed. Honorable. He loved you. Used to carry you around on his shoulders, called you his princess. And he loved Caroline.” Iris took a shaky breath. “I don’t know what went wrong. I truly can’t imagine what it could have been. They seemed so happy.”

“I can’t give you answers about what happened that night,” Frankie said gently. “I understand why you’d want them, but if you’re hoping I can tell you, I can’t. I don’t remember.”

Iris patted her hand. “I won’t deny that I’d like closure, but I’m not under the illusion that you’re able to give it to me.”

“You don’t think I saw anything?”

“You were a smart kid. You would have known to hide if there were trouble. But you were also bold as brass even then. Much too curious for your own good. You’d have come out of hiding to see what was happening, so yes, I believe you saw something.

“I’ve seen pictures of your sculptures, Frankie. They’re captivating, even though they’re also like something from a nightmare. They make me wonder if your subconscious keeps that event locked up tight. But I wouldn’t dream of asking you to drag it all back up—no good could come of that for you. And finding out the whole story wouldn’t change anything.”

Noting the slight slur in Iris’s voice, Frankie shot Lydia a concerned look.

“She’s tired herself out,” Lydia told Frankie. “Mom, you need to rest now.”

Iris huffed. “Fine, fine. I’m grateful that you came, Frankie. More grateful than you can ever know. I hope you’ll come back, but I’ll understand if you don’t.”

Stepping outside the room, Frankie blinked in surprise at Trick leaning against the wall. “Iris needs to rest, so Lydia’s just getting her settled.”

“You were in there for a while,” he observed. “Not as bad as you’d thought it would be?”

Far from it. “Iris made it easy.”

“Good. Time for that tour.”

“Aren’t you busy?”

“I’m off duty. Come on.”

Too curious to turn down such an offer, Frankie followed him. He showed her around the caves first, taking her to the different levels and letting her peek inside the game room, the infirmary, and even the laundry room.

Afterward he took her outside. There was so much to see. Not just the forest and the mountains, but the river, the wildlife, and his favorite spots. He told her lots of stories about the pack, making her laugh again and again.

At her request they hiked to the top of one of the mountains. The view was outstanding, and it was relaxing to listen to the wind whistling along the cliff and making the trees below creak as they rocked slightly.

Her wolf loved it. Loved the wild scents of cold rock, pine needles, and the earthy moss beneath Frankie’s feet.

“Is it hard?” he asked.

Sweeping her gaze over the valley below—admiring the ravine, the frothy waterfall, and the birds she could see perched in high treetops—she asked, “Is what hard?”

“Living off pack territory?”

Frankie felt her nose wrinkle. “I was about to say I don’t know any different. I don’t remember things being any different. My wolf’s kind of edgy, and I often wonder if it’s because she’s without a pack and a territory. I guess she gets lonely.”

Trick pinned her gaze with his. “You’re not without a pack.”

Being considered part of a pack and actually feeling as though she belonged to it—yeah, they were two different things. “Do you remember much about my parents?”

“Yeah. Your father used to chase me and the other boys away, tell us to stay away from his princess. It was just play, and you used to laugh your little head off. Your mother always had cookies, and she’d hand them out to everyone if they promised not to get into mischief. You were a lively, happy kid. Full of energy. Sweet too.” His mouth twitched. “Not so sweet now.”

“No, I can be kind of mean. Why does that make you smile?”

“I like mean.”

“Then you’ll fucking adore me.”

He chuckled, thinking that, yeah, he would. “We should head back. It’s time for dinner. You’re welcome to stay the night. As you’ve already seen, we have lots of guest rooms.”

She walked toward the slope, almost wincing as a bumpy rock prodded the sole of her foot. “I’m meeting someone later, but thanks.” She halted abruptly as he suddenly appeared in front of her.

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