“Coleman, it’s Nash. How are you doing on this fine afternoon?”
Trey’s jaw hardened. “How’s Drake?”
“He was doing better until I beat his ass for attacking your wolf. He knows I want an alliance with your pack—such behavior does not help my cause. It is in fact counterproductive, and I don’t suppose it’s helped convince you to accept me as an ally, has it?”
“Maybe this will help. Drake has been punished. Severely. He has also been suspended as Beta. When I’m ready to reinstate his position, I will. But only if he proves himself.”
Trick exchanged a grim look with Dante. Suspending a Beta never worked out well. To lose his position even temporarily would lose Drake the respect of his pack mates. They would no longer consider him an authority, and at least one of them would decide to challenge him for the position. In other words, it created discord and resentment and it made the hierarchy unstable.
In past instances of a Beta being suspended, they often did the only thing that would regain the rest of the pack’s respect and obedience—they challenged their Alpha. If Morelli were a true Alpha, he’d have known that instinctively. Of course, there was no saying he truly had suspended Drake. Morelli could just be feeding Trey shit to placate him.
“Pass on my apologies to Trick,” Morelli continued. “He can be assured that Drake won’t bother him again.”
“You positive of that?” asked Trey.
“One hundred percent. You have my word on that.”
“If Drake does attack again, I’ll hold you responsible.” With that, Trey ended the call.
Dominic pursed his lips. “Do you think he’s really suspended him?”
“I don’t know,” said Marcus. “He’ll be pissed at Drake for what he did. And if he’s dumb enough to claim he suspended him thinking it would impress Trey, he’s also dumb enough to have actually done it.”
“Whatever the case, he’ll order Drake to stay away from you,” Trey told Trick.
Tao nodded. “The question is, can Morelli keep that dog on a leash?”
“No,” said Trick. “But Morelli believes he can, so he won’t watch him close enough. We need to be prepared for Drake to make another move.”
Once the meeting was over, Trick left the office in search of Frankie. He found her in the living area, curled up on an armchair. Careful not to spill her coffee, he gently picked her up and sat down, settling her on his lap. “Hey, baby. You have a good talk with Iris?”
“Yeah. We looked at some photos. Check these out.” She pulled out her cell phone and showed him the pictures she’d taken.
Trick laughed at the one of them at her birthday party. “I remember that. I kept telling you the balloons wouldn’t make you fly, but you were determined to try.” He looked at the photo of her and her parents, wondering how the fuck a family that looked that happy together could possibly go to shit.
“Iris said she thought I should have one of me with them.”
“It’s okay to want it, Frankie.” But he sensed she felt some guilt. “There’s nothing bad about treasuring a happy moment.” Even if that happiness had later evaporated.
“I kind of hoped that looking through the albums would jog my memories, that I might remember something, which is just stupid, since people rarely recall any memories from that age. But I hate that there are so many holes in the story.”
Trick kissed her forehead. “I know you do. But you have to stop being mad at yourself,” he said quietly, “because it’s pissing me off.”
“Excuse me?” She kept her voice low, so it didn’t carry to the others.
“You’re angry with yourself because you think you could solve the mystery so easily if you hadn’t buried the memories when you were a kid. But it’s not your fault, Frankie. You hear me? It’s not your fault. We’ll probably never have the answers. You need to learn to be okay with that or you’ll torment yourself, and then I’ll have to paddle your ass because no one hurts my mate—not even her.”
While part of her bristled at his words, Frankie found herself snorting in amusement. “Paddle my ass, huh?”
“Paddle your ass, yes. I’ll make no bones about it—do not test me on this.”
She frowned. “You can’t make bones at all.”
He rolled his eyes. “It’s a figure of speech, and you know what I mean,” he said impatiently. He smoothed his hand down her back. “I’ll bet your ass would turn a very pretty shade of pink.” Trick was getting hard just thinking about it. “In fact, fuck the paddle. I’d use my hands. Yeah, seeing my handprints on your ass would be seriously fucking hot.”
“You don’t really have a paddle, do you?” His wicked smile was all the answer she needed. And it made her blush. She was about to declare, in no uncertain terms, that no paddle would get anywhere near her ass, but then his eyes cut to something over her shoulder. “What is it?” she asked.
“Why are the kids staring at you?”
She sighed. “I don’t know. I’m thinking they like the smell of my fear.”
Chuckling, Trick tucked his face in the crook of her neck.
“It’s really not funny.” But he just laughed harder. Asshole.
Frankie rubbed her arms. She was inside her display room. It was cold. Dark. She heard sniffling. She turned. It was her sculpture of the girl in the chair, her head plopped forward. She was sniveling and—
The sound abruptly cut off. There was a deathly chill to the silence. And Frankie was suddenly very afraid. The girl’s head began to lift, the movement stiff and jerky. Oh sweet Jesus, no. The synthetic hair parted. The face . . . it was Frankie. A much younger Frankie. “He hurt her,” she whispered.
“Who?” Frankie asked, her voice cracking. “Who hurt her?”
The child’s head slowly turned. She stiffly lifted her hand. Pointed.
Turning her head just as slowly, Frankie looked. Gasped. There was a black, frothy blur bobbing in the air. There were no eyes, but it saw her. She felt its eyes on her.
The scent of rain, brine, and burned wood swirled around her as a grating voice said, “You’re supposed to be in bed, Frankie.”
Frankie’s eyes snapped open, and she sucked in a breath and gripped the coverlet. Her heart was pounding like a drum, slamming against her ribs. She sucked in another breath, feeling like she couldn’t get enough air.
A warm, calloused hand cupped her cheek. “Shh, baby, it was just a nightmare.” Trick gathered her close and kissed her hair. “Want to talk about it?”
She shook her head, burrowing into him, absorbing his warmth and inhaling his scent. She supposed it wasn’t surprising that she’d have a nightmare, given that her mind was full of dark questions to which she had no answers. Still, it had been damn disturbing. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.” Shit, her voice actually trembled.
“Shh,” he soothed, kissing her hair again. “Sleep. I’ve got you.”
She snuggled closer and shut her eyes, but it was a long time before she fell back to sleep.
The knock at the front door snapped Frankie out of her zone. Dammit. Any other time, she’d have ignored it, but she was waiting on a delivery and needed the materials for her next project.