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“I’m half shifter,” she reminded him.

He waved that away. “You’re not like them. They’re hostile and uncivilized and animalistic. I agree with Dad, packs aren’t much different from cults—hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them are Satanic.”

“I went to Phoenix Pack territory today.”

“You did what?” He thumped his bottle down on the bar. “Frankie, what the fuck were you thinking?”

Shocked at his outburst, she blinked. “Brad—”

“One of theirs killed your mom, my sister. How can you let them into your life? I warned Caroline that mating with a shifter was a bad idea. I warned her that they weren’t like us, that she wouldn’t fit there. She wouldn’t listen. She got caught up in the fantasy of being surrounded by a pack and having someone completely devoted to her who’d never betray or harm her. Well, that was a load of shit, wasn’t it?”

“Brad—”

“Now you’re going to get caught up in that same fantasy? I thought you had more fucking sense.” He bowed his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. Finally he looked up. “I love you, Frankie. You’re more like a daughter to me than a niece. I respect that you’re a big girl who can make her own decisions. But this?” He shook his head. “I can’t condone this.”

Well, that got her back up. “I’m not asking you to condone it,” she said stiffly. “I don’t need you to.”

His jaw hardened. “Well, that puts me in my place, doesn’t it?”

She sighed, tired. She didn’t want to hurt him, but she would not be made to feel that she—a grown woman—had to justify what she did and seek permission for her actions.

“Doesn’t it matter to you that this will kill Marcia and Geoffrey?”

“Brad, I’ve never been able to please them. I learned a long time ago that it was pointless to try. But you go run to them with tales of my treachery if you feel you have to. It’s not like they won’t find some other reason to complain about me.”

He said nothing for a long moment. “I won’t tell them. I’m happy for them to never, ever know. I won’t breathe a word about it, but you have to promise me that you’ll stay away from those wolves. This has to be as far as it goes, Frankie.”

Her wolf snarled at that. “Does it?” she asked evenly.

“You don’t need them in your life,” he insisted, his face hard. “They’re no good for you. Now promise me you’ll stay away from them.”

She didn’t. She couldn’t.

He shook his head with a sigh. “You’ve let me down here, Frankie. What’s more, you’ve let your mom down.” With that parting shot he shoved his beer aside and stalked out. So, yeah, she went home feeling pissed off.

Her sleep was short and restless, so she didn’t wake up in the best mood. And since her hand was so stiff and sore from metal grinding that she was forced to take a break from sculpting, Frankie’s mood turned even more sour.

As such, it really was not the best time for her to have lunch with Marcia and Geoffrey, especially since she might well get the cold shoulder, but it seemed cowardly to make excuses and stay home. So Frankie went along, braced for the cold shoulder. Oddly, they acted normal, as if their heated conversation with her had never occurred. Brad seemed to be no longer angry, because he was also his usual self.

It should have been a relief. It wasn’t. It was irritating, because it felt like they’d dismissed the conversation as if it were unimportant. As if her pain were unimportant.

They ate at the long table in the impressive dining room while classical music played low in the background. Talk was light and shallow—mostly tales about recent happenings at work. Of course, Frankie wasn’t classed as “employed” in their book, so it wasn’t a conversation she could really join.

The lunch was nothing like her meal with the Phoenix Pack. No fun, no teasing, no laughing, no life to the occasion. And that was kind of sad.

Once they’d eaten dessert and moved to the parlor, Brad pulled her aside and whispered, “I’m sorry I yelled at you last night. I was upset.”

She gave a slight shrug. “Forget it.” But she wasn’t truly feeling so forgiving.

“Really, I’m sorry. The last thing I want to do is upset my girl. I just want what’s best for you and—”

“What are you two whispering about?” Marcia called out from the sofa.

Brad blanked his expression and turned to her. “Nothing.”

Marcia’s perceptive eyes narrowed at Frankie. “Did Lydia try to contact you again?”

“Can we not talk about the shifters?” Brad asked.

Marcia’s face went hard. “I’ll take that as a yes. You should give me her contact details, Francesca. I’ll hand them to our attorney—he can deal with the matter.”

Geoffrey nodded in agreement, taking the armchair. “He’ll ensure she understands that continuing to contact you will be classed as harassment.”

Brad spoke before Frankie could get a word in. “Mom, Dad, let’s just talk about something else.”

“Fine.” Marcia’s gaze cut to Frankie. “Selma’s son was disappointed that you didn’t stay for dinner the other day. His parents are throwing a charity ball in two weeks. He’d love to escort you there.”

Frankie raised a brow. “He’d love it so much that he’s asking through you?”

Brad chuckled, though the sound was strained. “She has a point, Mom. He’s not much of a man if he can’t, or won’t, take the time to ask her himself.”

Mouth twitching, Geoffrey inclined his head. “I share Brad’s disappointment in this,” he told his wife. “Our granddaughter is worth the effort.”

But Marcia huffed. “He’s a busy man. Oh, Francesca, Selma informed me that there’s a vacancy within her department for a—”

“I have a job.”

“Well, yes, but I’m sure it doesn’t take up much of your time and attention.”

“Building six-foot-tall sculptures really couldn’t be simpler,” Frankie said drily.

Marcia looked at her as though she were being dramatic. “Francesca, you know I dislike sarcasm.”

Brad cupped Frankie’s elbow and said quietly, “She means well.”

Did she? Right then, Frankie couldn’t have cared less. She was tired and frustrated and didn’t have the patience to yet again defend her chosen profession. As such, she didn’t stay long.

Just as she was saying her goodbyes to Geoffrey, Marcia spoke words that made Frankie grind her teeth.

“Before you leave, I’d like Lydia’s details.”

Mentally readying herself for battle, Frankie said, “No.”

“Francesca—”

“It’s too late anyway.”

Marcia went stiff as a board. “You met with her?” Anger blazed in her eyes. “You defied me?”

Frankie sighed wearily. “It’s really such a big drama that I wanted to meet these relatives that I don’t remember? You don’t think it’s natural that I had questions? Honestly?”

“Those wolves—”

“Aren’t asking for the world. What if it had been the other way around? What if it were you on the deathbed and you wanted to see me just once, would that have been such a crime?”

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