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She put down her tools, lowered the music, and then pushed up her goggles as she made her way to the front door. As she swung it open, Frankie silently cursed.

“Hello, Francesca.”

She forced a smile for Geoffrey. He didn’t return it. His expression was grave, and there was a grim twist to his mouth. No prizes for guessing what had brought him here. Vance had obviously called him about Trick. Weasel.

Stepping aside, Frankie invited him in with a sweep of her arm. “Can I get you coffee?”

“Please.”

Frankie headed to the kitchen, knowing he’d follow. She pulled the goggles off her head and placed them on a stool. As she handled the coffee machine, she flicked him surreptitious glances. Her wolf watched him carefully, distrustful of this man who’d lied to Frankie.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been here.” He glanced out the window. “Your backyard is still in good shape. Do you spend much time out there?”

Crossing her arms, she leaned against the counter. “Some.”

“It occurs to me that I’m not quite sure how you spend your time these days. You used to enjoy surfing and diving.”

“I still do, when my time’s free.”

“What have you been doing with your free time lately?” he asked, and it was obvious what he was getting at. Oh, that was Geoffrey. He’d ask inane questions, lead the conversation exactly where he wanted it, and then pounce.

Well, she wasn’t interested in playing games with him. “Why don’t you say what you really came to say?”

His chest puffed up. “I got a call from Vance. He said he saw you at the movie theater.”

Her wolf snarled at the mention of the asshole. Frankie grabbed a mug from the cupboard and placed it on the countertop. “He did.”

“He also said you were on a date.”

“I was.”

“Vance claims that the man you were with at the movie theater is a shifter.”

“Trick is a shifter.” Having poured coffee into the mug, she set it on the island between her and Geoffrey. “And I noticed that you didn’t come here to ask me if it was true. You took Vance’s word for it. So why have you come?”

Geoffrey’s mouth flattened. “Your grandmother is distraught. So much so that she wouldn’t even come with me to see you.”

Which hurt, but . . . “It’s not the first time she’s given me the cold shoulder. It won’t be the last.” That only added to the hurt.

“We lost Caroline to one of those savages. We will not lose you to one too.”

Irritation tightened her muscles. “I’m sure Vance told you how he knows that Trick is a shifter, which means you know that Trick recently defended a woman who was being mugged. But I see that you’re going to overlook that and paint him as a bad guy.”

“One good deed does not make someone a good person. For all we know, it was a setup, a publicity stunt.”

“You don’t truly think that.”

“I want your word that you’ll end this relationship. It’s not as if it has a future.” He dismissed the very idea of it with a flick of his hand and adjusted his tie. “Shifters will only commit to their predestined mates.”

He was wrong about that, but she wasn’t sure whether he was ignorant as to how things worked or he hoped to shake her faith in Trick and what was growing between them. “If you don’t think it has a future, why does it bother you?”

“You know why,” he snapped. “Have you been back to Phoenix Pack territory?”

“Yes. I wasn’t going to tell you about it, because I know it’s not something you’d want to hear and I don’t wish to hurt you. But if you’re going to ask me about it, I won’t lie.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “Why would you allow people into your life who are blood relations of that piece of filth who killed your mother?”

She felt her eyes flash wolf as the animal reached for the surface to make her anger clear. “I’m his blood relation,” Frankie pointed out. “So if being his relation makes them filth, it makes me filth.”

Geoffrey appeared to flounder. “The word will soon spread that you’re dating a shifter, now that Vance’s mother knows. That woman can’t keep anything to herself. Do you have any idea how hard it will be for Marcia to listen to talk of how her granddaughter has repaid everything she’s ever done for her by turning to the people responsible for Caroline’s death?” His nostrils flared. “I don’t understand why you want them in your life. Are you doing it to punish us for lying to you about your past?”

That rubbed her the wrong way. “Why do you think this is about you and Marcia? I gotta say, it’s a little narcissistic of you. Or maybe it’s guilt. Maybe some part of you knows you did wrong by lying to me.”

His chin lifted. “We did what was best for you. We always have.”

Okay, now that pissed her off. Because it was a total lie. “Always? Really? I was terrified when I shifted for the first time. Terrified. Because I was alone, and I didn’t know what to do. I’d known it was coming for weeks because I felt my wolf trying to rise. You knew how frightened I was, because I told you. And you said that there was no one to help me. But there was, wasn’t there?”

“They had no place in your life.”

“You made sure of that. You didn’t think of how it might have felt if the situation were reversed; you just cut them off. I would have expected better of a judge. Aren’t you supposed to consider all sides of a situation? Aren’t you supposed to deal with others with sensitivity and have no bias?”

“They didn’t deserve our sensitivity!”

“Did I? Because I don’t think you once considered me in your decision to remove them from my life. You knew I was half shifter. Knew it would be hard for me to be away from other wolves and have no territory. Knew I’d have to one day shift and that someone should be there with me to make sure it went smoothly. You made a decision that worked for you, not for me. You made a decision that allowed you to hurt them, so don’t say you did what was best for me. Maybe you and Marcia kidded yourselves into thinking it was for my benefit, but you won’t kid me.”

His cheeks reddened. “We did what we thought was right.”

“I know you too well to believe that lie.” She sighed. “So, what, you’re holding your love hostage? I can’t have it back until I do what you want?” Frankie shook her head. “Unreal. I make my decisions. I’m a full-grown woman—”

“Then act like one. Grow up. Get a real job.”

“You did not just fucking say that.”

They both turned at the sound of Trick’s voice. He stood in the doorway, eyes flinty, jaw hard. Frankie bit her lip. Maybe it hadn’t been such a great idea to give him a key to the house.

When he’d pulled up outside the house, Trick had guessed that the Lexus at the end of her driveway belonged to either Frankie’s uncle or her grandparents. He’d also figured that there was a good chance that her ex had called them about her date with Trick. So the sound of raised voices had come as no surprise to him.

He’d been ready to step in and defend his mate whether she needed it or not. What he hadn’t been prepared for was the pain in her voice as she’d spoken of how terrified she’d been during her first shift. The words rang with the sense of isolation and loneliness she’d felt back then. It had gutted Trick and his wolf. Absolutely gutted them.

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