Sunlight streamed through the open roll-up door, outside which she’d sectioned off a part of her backyard to use for bigger, more challenging sculptures. Tools, materials, and other equipment lined the walls; some sat on benches or shelves, others on metal racks or the floor, ensuring she had plenty of space to work.
Abigail’s high heel clicked on the cold concrete floor as she stood near the locked door of the display room, tapping her foot impatiently. Frankie kept all her finished sculptures inside, and she’d recently completed a commissioned piece for the owner of a New York art gallery. She fished the keys out of the pocket of her coveralls and unlocked the door.
Eyes alight with eagerness, Abigail walked inside and pointed to a veiled sculpture. “This it?”
“It is.” Frankie gently removed the cover, and there it was. A life-size child sat on a rickety chair, her head drooping forward so that her long black hair covered her face. Her gray nightie was dirty and ragged and stopped just below the knees. Deep scratches covered her legs and arms.
“Jesus, Frankie, she almost looks alive. This is terrifying. Honestly, my nape’s prickling—like someone’s watching me. This sets off that same feeling of danger. You’ve never used synthetic hair in a sculpture before, have you?”
“No.” Frankie made mixed-media sculptures, liking to combine different materials in her projects.
“She looks spooky, and it makes me wonder if she’s a victim or a creepy evil kid. Makes me want to part her hair to see what her face looks like. At the same time, I don’t want to know.”
“That’s the point. Pierre wanted something that reflects how often we’re too scared to look close enough to see what could be a dark truth, how often we see what we want to see.”
“He’s going to love it.”
Frankie had gained quite a rep for creating dark sculptures. She rarely set out to make something dark, but often the finished result looked like something she’d plucked right out of a hellish nightmare.
“What are you going to call it?”
“Shit, even that’s spooky.” Abigail shivered. “You must have extremely bleak dreams.”
She’d had nightmares as a child, but she could only recall flashes of them now. Remembered the snarling. The crying. The scary shadows. The sheer terror that had seized her. But the images had never made sense, had never come together to create a clear picture.
“Really, Frankie, I wouldn’t have thought I’d like this kind of work. Wouldn’t have thought I could truly admire it, let alone properly represent someone who created it. But every piece is so powerful that it touches me on some level—and sometimes it’s a level that I don’t like.”
Frankie’s mouth curved. “Good. If they don’t touch people—” She cut herself off as her phone beeped. “Hang on just a sec.” She dug her phone out of her pocket and opened the e-mail she’d received. She read it. Then she read it again. Then she read it again. The words began to blur, and she realized her hand was shaking.
“Is everything all right?”
Unable to properly process what she’d read, Frankie burst out, “What the fuck is this?”
Lounging in an armchair, Trick Hardy twisted the small object in his hand this way and that, studying it from every angle . . . as if it could somehow answer the many questions he had. His pack mates were spread across the room—perched on the sofa, sprawled in the armchairs, and sitting on the floor. They’d waited until the children were in bed before meeting to discuss the issue.
Taryn, the Alpha female, gaped at Trick. “You’re seriously telling me that four of the pack’s vehicles had been tagged with GPS trackers like that one? Jesus.”
“Someone obviously wants to monitor our movements,” said her mate, Trey, his large form pacing in front of the sofa. “Why?”
Dominic, an enforcer, tapped his fingers on the arm of a plush chair. “Packs always have reasons to want to keep a close eye on others.”
Makenna frowned. “Yeah, but using trackers isn’t exactly normal, is it? It seems extreme.” Her mate, Ryan, grunted in agreement. The gruff enforcer didn’t talk much. Luckily—and weirdly—Makenna seemed to be able to translate his grunts.
“Could be that someone’s trying to learn our patterns,” mused Trick. “Or maybe they’re waiting until the tagged vehicles are all gone at once.”
Trey’s arctic-blue gaze narrowed. “Waiting for a time when the pack might be vulnerable, you mean.”
Trick shrugged. “It’s a theory.”
“By monitoring our movements, they’re monitoring the kids’ movements,” said Tao, the Head Enforcer, golden-brown eyes flashing. Sitting on the floor with his mate between his legs, he lightly massaged her stiff shoulders. Riley, a raven shifter, was the pack’s Guardian and watched over the five children.
“It would be a good idea to keep them on our territory as much as possible,” said Ryan. He cast his mate a pointed look, since Makenna liked taking their baby girl to the homeless shelter for lone shifters where she worked.
Sniffing, Makenna flicked her long, multicolored, beach-layered waves over her shoulder.
“There’s no way to tell how long the trackers have been here,” said Riley. “That bugs me—no pun intended—because it means we have no idea just how much of our movements have been recorded.”
“Whoever planted the trackers will know we found them—they switched off the moment they were removed,” said Marcus, another enforcer. “They didn’t look particularly high tech to me.”
Rhett, their IT expert and hacker, said, “They weren’t. You could easily buy a batch of them online.”
Taryn eyed the one that Trick was fiddling with as she said, “Thank God the mechanic spotted it when he gave the SUV a tune-up, or we might never have known about them.”
Dante, the Beta male, stretched out his long legs. “I doubt whoever did it will risk planting any more, but we should still be careful. If we leave our territory, we should check the vehicles afterward—it wouldn’t be hard to plant a tracker while we’re out and about.”
Perched on Marcus’s lap, Roni—his mate and another enforcer—took her strawberry-flavored lollipop out of her mouth and said, “We should also be on the lookout for people tailing us. If someone really wants to keep track of our movements, they’ll find another way.”
Trick pursed his lips. “Do you think Morelli might have something to do with it, Trey?” Nash Morelli had become a pain in their asses. The wolf had built his pack by recruiting lone shifters, many of whom were assassins. He called it the Mortelle Pack, the word being French for “deadly.” Trick found the idea a little pathetic. The pack had grown over time as Morelli had targeted small packs, challenging and killing their Alphas before then giving the rest of the pack members the choice to join him or die. As such, Trick doubted the Mortelle wolves would be particularly loyal to their Alpha. The way Morelli formed a pack didn’t really say “Alpha material.” He was quite simply an asshole.
Morelli had recently called Trey to request a meeting, which would take place in a few days’ time, and no one was looking forward to it. Trick didn’t think Morelli would be dumb enough to fuck with Trey—not given the Phoenix Alpha’s dark reputation—but some people were simply . . . well . . . stupid.