Iris nodded, sighing sadly. “They were. Cruz took his death harder than the others did. He was the first to arrive on the scene. You can imagine how devastated he was to find his best friend dead.”
Frankie couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for him. As she looked through photos of Brad and Caroline, she noticed Cruz glaring in the background. “I see that Cruz didn’t like Brad.”
“It was more that he didn’t like Brad’s attitude toward Christopher,” said Iris.
They went through another album of random photos, some of which showed Caroline pregnant. Christopher always seemed to be close by, and his hand was often splayed protectively over her round belly.
Selecting yet another album, Iris said, “These pictures are mostly of you, Frankie. I’m not sure if your grandparents told you, but you were born early and the pack healer didn’t think you’d survive. You proved her wrong.”
Actually, Frankie hadn’t known that. More secrets.
“You can see just how proud as punch Caroline and Christopher were of you.”
They did indeed look proud, thought Frankie. Tears even glittered in his eyes at one point as he stared at her, stroking her cheek. “My grandparents have pictures of me with my mother, but none with my father. I should have questioned that, shouldn’t I? I mean, she showed me pictures of some random guy and claimed he was my father, but shouldn’t I have found it weird that he wasn’t in any of the photos with me or my mother?
“I did ask if there were any. Marcia would always say, oh, they’re probably in the attic, and she’d get someone to pull them down for me when she had a chance. And then I’d forget that I asked for them, or I’d drop the subject because speaking of my parents always put her in a bad mood. I should have pushed her.”
Lydia reached over the bed to pat her hand. “You had no reason to question her because you had no reason to believe she’d lie.”
Frankie swallowed as she gazed at one particular photo of Christopher smiling down at Caroline while holding Frankie in his arms. “He loved her.”
“Worshipped her,” said Iris. “Worshipped you.”
The last album showed yet more photos—some were taken on Christmases, others on birthdays or Halloweens—and Frankie could see herself changing as she aged. There were many of her cuddling with Iris and Lydia, and it was clear that they had indeed loved her, just as she’d clearly loved them in return.
“This picture here was taken at your third birthday party,” said Iris. “The little boy tying balloons on your wrists is Trick. You asked him to do it, hoping they’d lift you into the air.”
Lydia pointed to one of Frankie and her parents at her party. The three of them were huddled around a cake, smiling. “That’s one of my favorite photos. You should take it.”
Iris nodded. “I’d offer you one of the albums, Frankie, but I know you won’t take any. Still, you should have at least one photo of the three of you together. One of a happy time.”
Frankie didn’t want to take it, worried she’d squash or lose it. “I’ll snap a picture of it with my cell phone.”
“You should take a snap of the one of you and Trick too,” suggested Lydia. “He’ll get a kick out of seeing that.”
Having taken a picture of both photos, Frankie looked at Iris. “You’re tired.”
Iris sighed. “Always am these days. Even if I hadn’t had the mating bond, Alfie’s death would have broken me. I couldn’t have survived long without him, whatever the case.” She placed her hand over Frankie’s. “You take care now, you hear? You grab every bit of happiness out of life that you can get. Don’t let anyone steal that happiness from you. Take care of Trick, and let him take care of you. Even a strong woman needs to lean on her man sometimes. I miss mine. I’m okay with dying, because it means I’ll see him again.”
Swallowing hard, Frankie squeezed her hand. She wished she could have told Iris that she loved her and would miss her, but it would have been a lie. Iris was still too much of a stranger. Instead Frankie said, “I’m glad I got the chance to know you.” That earned her a wide smile. “Rest now.”
“Couldn’t stay awake if I tried.”
Outside the room, Frankie asked Lydia, “How are you doing?”
Face pained, Lydia exhaled heavily. “Okay.”
“Must be hard losing both your parents in such a short time. I can’t say I can relate to that, since I can’t remember losing mine.”
“Dad’s death was a shock. Mom’s won’t be, but it will still be hard. Thank you for seeing her. She’ll rest easier now when she passes.”
“You don’t need to thank me. Like I told Iris, I’m glad I got the chance to know her. So thank you for taking a chance on me and sending me that e-mail.”
Lydia gave her a watery smile. “Thank you for responding to the e-mail and giving us a chance.”
A croaky voice called out from inside the room, “Are you going to keep thanking each other for stuff, or are you going to leave so I can sleep?”
That got an eye roll out of Lydia. “We’re going, we’re going.”
Standing in his Alpha’s office, Trick had just finished listening to Trey’s account of the call he’d made to Morelli the previous night. Anger flooded him. “He laughed?”
Trey nodded, hands planted on his desk. “Said he thought I was joking. Said he’s quite aware that Drake’s a wild card, but he didn’t figure him for an idiot. I insisted that Drake is a total fucking idiot. Morelli said he’d talk to him and call me back today at noon. That’s why I summoned you home. I figured you’d want to be here when he called.”
Dante scratched his chin. “We can’t really blame Morelli for wanting to check out your story, Trey. You’d do the same, in his position.”
“That doesn’t mean I like that he doubted my word or the word of one of my wolves. I definitely don’t like that he found what I had to say fucking amusing. I asked Nick if Morelli had called him, asking for a meet,” said Trey, referring to the Alpha of the Mercury Pack, which was so closely allied with theirs that they shared both Roni and Marcus. “He said no.”
“On another note, how’s Bracken doing?” Trick asked, referring to one of the Mercury enforcers. Bracken and his parents, sisters, brother-in-law, and baby nephew had been at a shifter-owned drive-in cinema when all hell broke loose. Anti-shifter extremists had not only thrown grenades and detonated several bombs, they’d had snipers picking off the people who tried to flee. Only Bracken, his mother, and one of his sisters got out alive. Neither female tried to survive the breaking of her mating bond. Within days they too died.
Trey’s expression was grim. “According to Nick, not good. It was bad enough that he lost his whole family just like that. The worst of it is . . . Bracken was holding the baby when he died. The bullet hit Bracken in the back and went right through him into the three-month-old’s head. He had the baby’s blood and brains splattered all over him.”
“Jesus,” Trick breathed, rubbing his nape. “No wonder the guy looked like the living dead the last time I saw him.”
Just then, Trey’s cell phone rang. The Alpha tapped the screen, putting the call on speakerphone, and clipped, “Hello.”