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What made it worse was that her maternal family had known how frightened she’d been. They’d done nothing. One phone call. They could have made one fucking phone call, and Lydia would have been at her side to help her through it. But they didn’t. And then for Geoffrey to so coldly and scornfully snipe that she should get a “real job” was the icing on the fucking cake.

Anger surged through Trick, heating his blood. He stalked into the kitchen, fisted Geoffrey’s collar, and literally hauled the flailing human down the hallway and through to Frankie’s studio. There Trick shoved him toward the hellhorse sculpture. “Look. Look.”

Geoffrey looked at it, and he actually did a double take.

“Frankie made that. Not just physically. She created it up here.” Trick tapped his temple. “Tell me that’s nothing. Tell me you’ve ever made something like that in your life. Tell me you could ever create something like that with not only your own two hands, but with your brain. You can’t, can you? That’s not a simple hobby. It’s a gift. A skill. One that’s appreciated worldwide by galleries, artists, critics, and art lovers. But her biggest fans should have been you, your wife, and your son. If nothing else, she should have had your support and respect. Because that kind of creativity and skill is worth a hell of a lot of respect. Am I wrong?”

“You’re not wrong,” conceded Geoffrey, but his voice was void of emotion.

“Then why doesn’t she have it?” Trick demanded. “Why won’t you give her the credit she’s due?”

Geoffrey didn’t answer. Just stared at him.

“Is it because Christopher used to paint?” Trick asked. The human’s eyes flashed, and Trick knew he’d hit the nail on the head. “He was arty, wasn’t he? You see that trait in her, and you don’t like it. But see, that’s your problem. And it should have been a problem you ignored out of love for her and because you want her to be happy. But you didn’t. For that, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

Jutting out his chin, Geoffrey sniffed. “I don’t have to listen to this.”

“But you will. It’s been a long time coming.” Trick tilted his head. “I don’t know why you’d link this ‘hobby’ with Christopher since, when you think about it, she probably got the sculpting skill from you and your wife. Isn’t that what you’ve always tried to do to Frankie? Shape and mold her into what you want?” Upper lip curling back in contempt, Trick loomed over him. “You’re not going to do that to her anymore. I won’t let you.”

Geoffrey sneered. “You’ve got a lot of nerve standing there, judging me, when your pack is responsible for my daughter’s death.”

“That’s a weak argument. And an attempt to shift the focus from you.”

“Your pack took my daughter from me and my family. I won’t let you take my granddaughter from us too.”

Trick growled, and his wolf snapped his teeth. “You took her from me. She’s mine. Always was.”

The raw possessiveness in his voice took Geoffrey off guard. He looked from Trick to Frankie, and realization flashed in his eyes. He shook his head in denial. “No.”

“Yes,” Trick bit out. “She’s my mate. I missed twenty-four years of her life because you wanted to punish her paternal family and pack mates for what happened to Caroline. But you didn’t only hurt us, you hurt Frankie. You won’t take her from me again.”

“See, you’re trying to steal her from us—you and your pack.”

“We don’t need to try to steal her. You’re pushing her to us with the way you’re acting. In your efforts to bring her to heel, you’re driving her away.” Trick had no idea how the guy couldn’t see it. “And you know what? We hate that. We’re not gloating. We hate that she’s hurting. If you truly love her, you’ll stop and let this be. There’s no reason why she can’t have both sides of her family in her life. Don’t make her choose.”

“You think she’ll choose you?” Geoffrey smirked, as if the idea were ridiculous.

“Yeah, I do. Don’t test that.”

The smirk on Geoffrey’s face died. He turned to Frankie, who was standing off to the side, watching the exchange with a blank expression. But Geoffrey didn’t say a word to her. He straightened the lapels of his jacket as he stormed out of the studio and then out of the house, slamming the front door behind him.

Trick rubbed a hand down his face. “I’m sorry that you had to be here for that, because it put you in an awkward position,” he told her. “But I’m not sorry for any of what I said. He needed to hear it.”

Face softening, Frankie uncrossed her arms. “Trick, I’m not going to get upset because my boyfriend stood up for me.” She wasn’t convinced that anything he’d said to Geoffrey had done any good, but Trick was right—her grandfather had needed to hear it.

Trick crossed to her and cupped her face. “I’m not your boyfriend. I’m a fuck of a lot more than that.”

She laid a hand on his chest. “It doesn’t seem fair of me to call you my mate when I haven’t let you claim me. I can’t have it both ways, can I?”

He gave her a slow grin and whispered, “Sure you can.” He kissed her, lashing her tongue with his, sipping from her mouth. He slid his hands over her, soothing and gentling her. “I’m guessing that Vance told your grandparents about us.”

“Yep. But we’d expected that.”

“Did Vance know what kind of trouble his news would cause?”

“He knew they’d be upset, but not like that.”

Maybe not, thought Trick, but still . . . “He had to know that they’d expect you to end it. And I’ll bet that’s exactly what the bastard wanted.”

“It might seem like he wants me back, Trick, but he doesn’t. What he wants is to keep his options open, to have me waiting on the sidelines in case things mess up with Layla.”

Trick clenched his jaw. “He needs to get it out of his head that you’re an option. And he should know that you have more self-respect than to pause your love life on the off chance that he might come knocking on your door.”

Liking that comment, Frankie melted against him and smoothed her hands up his back. “No one’s ever gone to bat for me before. Not that I needed them to, but still . . .” It had been kind of nice.

Trick kissed her. “Get used to it. No one gets to harm you by word or deed.”

The protective growl made her skin tingle. “My agent will like you.”

His mouth curled on one side. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Abigail was protective and constantly tried to set Frankie up with “good guys.” She’d very much approve of how well Trick treated Frankie.

“You know what I think would be good right now?” he asked.


“A dip in the hot tub.”

Frankie smiled. “I like that idea. But I have a delivery coming soon.”

He tucked a loose strand of her hair around her ear. “We’ll hear it arrive.”

“Okay then.” Upstairs, she quickly changed into a neon-orange bikini and scooped her hair up into a high ponytail. Walking into the backyard a few minutes later, she was surprised to find him wearing trunks.

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