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“Jesus.” Frankie loosely hooked her arms around his neck and studied his expression as she said, “It wasn’t your fault, Trick. You know that, right? It was tragic that she tried to commit suicide, but it was her choice. You don’t hold any blame for it.”

“I know that.” But he’d still been hit hard by regret, shame, and guilt back then. “She was a nice kid, you know. Fun and bright and upbeat. She had really bad lows, though. Could bounce from happy to sad to angry in an instant. Being around her had been like walking on a minefield. But she had a spark; it made people like her, made her seem strong. I realized later that the spark was just that—a spark. Not a sign of strength.”

“And you felt like you’d snuffed out that spark,” Frankie realized.

“At first, yeah. Not by saying that it was a crush, but by losing my temper and hurting her.”

“To be fair, Trick, I don’t think there is a sensitive way of telling a young girl that the guy she’s crushing so hard on isn’t really her mate. Not if she truly believed it. If you hadn’t been firm about it, she might have interpreted it as indecision on your part—purely because it would have been what she wanted to believe.”

“Maybe.” Trick’s eyes drifted almost shut as Frankie’s fingers soothingly traced patterns on his back. “Anyway, her family was understandably upset. Her parents agreed with me that it was just a crush that she mistook for something more. They didn’t blame me, but her older brother sure did. He went for my throat.”

Bastard. Her wolf growled at the idea. “How old was he?”

“Seventeen. He was angry and looking for someone to take it out on. The fight was brutal. I was younger than him, but I was equally dominant, and I was big for my age. I won the duel and he submitted, which meant I didn’t have to kill him. But he dug his claws in deep enough for that strike to scar me. For a while that scar felt like a reminder of what an insensitive bastard I’d been to Jana. But intellectually I knew that I wasn’t responsible for her choices. I eventually came to believe that.”

“Good, because you did nothing wrong. Sounds to me like she wasn’t emotionally stable. Is she better now?”

“I have no idea. Her family left the pack shortly after that.” He rested his forehead on hers. “No one outside my childhood pack mates knows that story.”

“It’s safe with me.”

“I know.” He snaked a hand around her throat and kissed her, slow and wet and deep. He got lost in it. Lost in her. And now his cock was full and aching. He growled. “I love this mouth.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I think about it a lot. I think about tasting it. Then I think about fucking it. Then I think about fucking you. Then I think about you fucking me. You see the pattern.”

“You think too much.” Her mouth twisted. “This might seem like a stupid question . . .”

“It probably is. Ask anyway.”

She gave him a mock glare for that comment. “Did you ever think there was a chance that your true mate was a guy?”

Trick narrowed his eyes, wondering if the real question was Did you hope your true mate was a guy? “I always thought my mate would be female.”

She slanted her head. “Why?”

“It was just a feeling. Now, though, I think maybe a part of my subconscious had already recognized you and so I knew my mate was female. Frankie, when I was with someone in the past, it wasn’t about whether they had a pussy or a cock. I didn’t prefer one over the other.” He gripped her neck. “Hear me when I say this because it’s important—I don’t need cock, I don’t need pussy, I need you. Just you.”

Frankie bit the inside of her cheek. They might not have been poetic words, but they got to her. “I’m not like you.”

His brow lifted. “In what way, baby?”

“I don’t find it easy to say nice stuff. I’m outspoken, I’ll say what I’m thinking or feeling, but I find it awkward when it comes to talking about personal feelings. And I’m annoyed at myself for that. You don’t hold anything back, and you deserve to hear what I’m feeling.”

Trick’s chest clenched. He scooped her up and brought her close to straddle him. “I know what you’re feeling. It’s written all over your face.”

She couldn’t help bristling. “What am I feeling?”

“You’re so madly, deeply, irreversibly in love with me that you find yourself bursting into happy tears at random times, thanking fate for sending me your way and letting you get caught up in my sexual web.”

Frankie stifled a smile and said, deadpan, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m feeling.”

“See, it’s like one mind.”

“Uh-huh.”

He curved his hand around her chin. “I don’t need pretty words from you, Frankie. I find it cute that you struggle with them. But I can see that this really bothers you, so let’s do this another way. Do you want me here?”

“If I didn’t want you here, I’d have kicked your ass out.”

She’d have tried, thought Trick. It wouldn’t have worked. “Am I enough for you the way I am?”

She swallowed. “Yes.”

“Do you think you could ever love me?”

“I’m kind of halfway there,” she whispered.

Satisfied, Trick smiled. “That’s all I need to know.”

CHAPTER TEN

The next morning, Frankie was cursing at her cell phone when she sensed Trick enter the kitchen. “Brad’s still not answering my calls,” she told him without looking up. Apparently her uncle was taking a page from Marcia’s book and giving Frankie the cold shoulder. “Well, I’m not calling again so he can keep blowing me off. He knows I want to speak to him. I’m not giving him the satisfaction of chasing after him.” When Trick said nothing, she lifted her head and met his eyes. The sober look on his face made her tense. “Something wrong?”

He crossed to her stool and took her hands in his. “Baby, it’s Iris. She passed away in her sleep last night.”

The words stabbed Frankie right in the stomach. She took in a huge gulp of air. “Oh.”

“Come here.” Trick drew her to him, curling his arms tight around her. He kissed her hair. “I’m sorry, baby.”

The gentleness in his voice made her chest tighten. “I didn’t really know her.”

Trick framed her face with his hands. “She was your grandmother, and she loved you. She was a good woman, and I’m sorry that you didn’t get more time with her. And I’m sorry for all the years that you missed with her. If nothing else, you can mourn what you missed.”

Frankie rested her forehead on his chest. She hadn’t expected to feel such deep sorrow about the news. Iris was her grandmother, sure, but she was also a virtual stranger. Still, Frankie remembered those pictures she’d seen in the albums of Iris hugging her tight, kissing her cheek, holding her hand, or carrying her around. Iris had loved her, and the child that Frankie had once been had loved her right back.

Realizing she was clinging to Trick, Frankie loosened her grip on him. “Will there be a funeral?”

“It’ll be held on Bjorn Pack territory in a few days.”

She frowned. “Bjorn territory?”

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