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“Iris wanted to be buried near her mate and son.” Which meant that if Frankie went, she’d see Christopher’s grave. Trick wasn’t sure if that was something she was ready for. “You don’t have to go to the funeral, Frankie. Iris would have wanted you to be there, but she would also have perfectly understood if you didn’t go.”

“I’ll be there.” She wanted to pay her respects. His eyes searched hers, uncertain, so she assured him, “I’ll be fine.”

“Okay. The graveyard is near the border of Bjorn Pack territory, so there’ll be no need for us to drive through the heart of it.”

That was a relief. She wasn’t ready to revisit the place yet. Wasn’t sure if it was something she’d ever want to do.

“Don’t know if you’re one of those people who like to be alone when you’re sad or grieving, but I’m telling you now that that won’t be happening. I’m staying at your side. We don’t have to talk about this anymore if you don’t want to, but I’m not leaving you.”

“I wasn’t going to ask you to go.” Her chest felt tight, and she rubbed the heel of her hand over it. Her stomach was churning, and she was surprised she hadn’t retched.

“We need to go check on Lydia. She’ll want to see you. Think you’re up to that?”

“I thought we’d established that I’m not made of fine bone china, Trick.”

He cupped her face. “I know you’re not fragile. But you are mine. That means I intend to take care of you, no matter how strong you are.”

“Even a strong woman needs to lean on her man sometimes.”

Hearing Iris’s voice in her head made her swallow hard. Frankie went pliant against him, and he wrapped his arms tight around her once more. She said nothing as he gently rocked her from side to side; she allowed herself to take comfort from him. Her wolf pushed up against him, letting out a whine of grief. “You’re right, she was a good woman. She didn’t deserve to have her granddaughter taken from her life.”

Trick kissed her temple. “No, she didn’t. But she got to see the woman you’d become. That made up for a lot.” He squeezed her nape. “Come on, let’s go home.” He was glad when she didn’t argue that Phoenix Pack territory wasn’t her home. They both knew she wouldn’t be living in the house much longer. “We’ll see Lydia, and then we’ll let our wolves out so they can run together.”

“Sounds good.”

An hour later, they were walking through the caves of pack territory. As they entered the living area, Frankie saw that most of the pack were gathered around, all looking grief-stricken to varying degrees.

Lydia’s lips trembled as she saw Frankie. Her eyes were red rimmed, and her face was puffy and splotchy. She stood and crossed to Frankie.

Not good with grieving people, Frankie shifted from foot to foot. She opened her mouth, intending to say the typical “I’m sorry for your loss,” but the words just seemed so formal and distant. All that came out was, “Hey.”

“Frankie,” was all Lydia said. Then she wrapped her arms around Frankie. It wasn’t a hug that offered comfort, it was one that begged for it. Frankie awkwardly returned the hug.

“I really can’t thank you enough for coming to see her,” Lydia whispered, as if her voice lacked strength. “She’d wanted it for so long . . .”

Frankie swallowed. Her throat felt sore and scratchy from the sob that she couldn’t seem to let go. “I’m glad I was able to see her. As Trick said, she was a good woman.” Hell, they weren’t exactly comforting words, but she was truly at a loss for what to say.

“I knew it was coming. Even though I was prepared, it still hit me hard when I went to check on her and realized she was gone.” Lydia shuddered, and then it was like she just crumpled. Her sobs were heartbreaking. Cam gently pulled her to him, murmuring in her ear as Lydia cried, clutching his arms.

Trick draped an arm over Frankie’s shoulders, holding her close, as people offered her sympathetic looks and words of comfort. He knew his mate. Knew she’d feel that she didn’t deserve that support, considering it felt to her as if she’d only met Iris twice. But he also knew that Frankie was hurting. Mourning the years that she’d lost with her grandmother, and imagining how different things would have been if they hadn’t been separated from each other all those years ago.

Taking a shaky breath, Lydia raked a hand through her hair. “Clara will be here soon. She wants to help with the funeral arrangements. She’ll probably bring her sons with her.”

He felt Frankie tense in his arms and wondered why. Figuring she felt overwhelmed, he spoke into her ear. “Come on, let’s go for that run.”

Taking possession of her hand, he led her out of the caves and down to a clearing near the river. He grimaced at the thick gray cloud that smeared the sky. “Rain’s coming, but I think our wolves will have enough time to play before it starts.”

As they began to strip, she asked, “Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, our wolves could claim each other.”

Trick chuckled. “I can’t promise that my wolf won’t try his luck, but I know your wolf won’t let him claim her. Not yet. She’s still testing me.”

“You’re winning her over. Fast.”

“Good. Now let her free,” he coaxed. Bones snapped and popped as his Frankie withdrew and a creamy blonde wolf with a patch of silver fur between her ears stood in her place. The female stretched, scrabbling her claws on the ground. Trick crouched down to her and patted her neck while she licked his jaw. “Beautiful,” he said. Then he shifted.

The male wolf shook fur that was a mix of gray, brown, and gold. He sniffed his mate. She backed away with a playful snarl. Then she ran. He chased her through the woods, paws padding over fallen leaves, pine needles, flowers, and mushrooms. Gaining on her, he pounced.

The female barked as he wrestled her to the ground. She twisted. Playfully bit and swatted him. Back on her feet, she ran again.

For hours they explored, leaping over crumbling logs, lapping at the stream, and chasing forest creatures into the underbrush or up the trees.

Random drops of water wet their fur, but they kept playing. It wasn’t until the rain picked up that they turned to head back to the river. It was too late. The rain was soon pounding down on them. The male wolf herded his female into a small building for shelter. Then he pulled back, allowing his human half to surface.

Trick scratched the she-wolf’s ear. “Shift, baby.” He waited, muscles coiled, ready to pounce.

Standing, Frankie blinked rain out of her eyes, surprised to see a row of SUVs. Realizing it was a small garage, she said, “Why do you have—” A mouth closed over hers, hot and hard. For a second she froze, startled. Then she gave herself over to him.

He backed her against an SUV, his growl vibrating with pure power. His hands roughly fisted her wet hair, angling her head. Yes, this was what she needed. His heat. His strength. The ferocity of what he felt for her. And he’d known that, she realized. Known that soft and gentle would do nothing for her while so many emotions were putting her through the wringer. She didn’t want to be gentled, she wanted to be fucked. Taken. Used.

She shivered, but it wasn’t from the cool air or the rain that dripped from her hair down her back. No, it was her body instantly responding to Trick—heating, melting, shaking, readying itself.

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