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Not really comfortable with the conversation, she simply said, “Okay.” She hoped he’d end it there. He didn’t.

“Even if I had wanted more—which I hadn’t—he wouldn’t have given it to me. He’s always been so very sure that he’ll recognize his mate on sight that he held his sexual partners at a distance, reasoning that letting them close could lead them into thinking he wanted more. He did it out of loyalty to a mate he hadn’t yet found—or, as it turns out, who he hadn’t consciously known he’d found. For Trick, there’s only ever been you. No one else counted.”

Warmed a little by his seeming determination to reassure her, she nodded. “Thank you for telling me that.”

“You’re good for him. For a long time, Trick has made a point of taunting the fuck out of others. But it’s been at least four months since he last teased anyone. I knew something was wrong, wondered if maybe he and his wolf were becoming restless and sour by watching others find their mates while he remained alone. He wouldn’t talk about it. Wouldn’t even admit that he was losing hope of finding you. See, Trick comes across as someone who’s easy to read, but he’s not. A lot of stuff goes on in his head; he just keeps it to himself. He does that for the same reason that he pushes—or did push—people’s hot buttons and deliberately stirs things up.”

“To keep a part of himself separate from others.” She tilted her head as something occurred to her. “Is it because of Jana?”

Marcus rocked back on his heels. “He told you about her? Good. It shows he’s holding nothing back from you.”

He did seem to be genuinely pleased by it. This wasn’t someone who was at all jealous or even slightly discomfited by her connection to Trick, she mused. The tension that had stilled her muscles began to ebb. Even her wolf began to relax a little.

“To answer your question, yes, I think it is because of Jana. No one’s going to crush hard on a person who goads them, taunts them, and deliberately makes them feel uncomfortable—even though he’s not malicious about it. He wasn’t like that until the Jana incident.”

“What was he like?” she asked, curious.

“More empathetic, sensitive, and unguarded. Oh, he still teased people, but he did it in a lighthearted way. He did it to lift the mood or make them laugh, not to piss them off. I’ve seen him act that way with you. I wondered if there was anything of the old Trick left in him. It’s good to know that there is; it’s good to watch it resurface. I’m glad he has you back.”

Frankie felt a smile curve her mouth. This wolf was easy to like. “I can’t really blame him for scratching your itches.” Especially since Marcus was hot.

Marcus laughed. “Thanks. So things aren’t going to be weird between you and me? Because I really don’t want that.”

“Things aren’t going to be weird,” she assured him truthfully.

“Good. See you at dinner after I go see what Trey’s called a meeting for.”

They parted ways, and Frankie soon arrived at the kitchen. It was kind of odd walking inside on her own. Sure, this was technically her pack, but she still felt like a visitor at times. Grief marred the air, but there was an unexpected hint of warmth there too.

Jaime smiled the moment she spotted her. “Hey, Frankie.” She patted the chair beside her in invitation. “Lydia was just telling us about all the crazy shit that Iris did whenever she was drunk. Lydia, tell her about the time your mom wrote the poem for a badger.”

Lydia did, and Frankie couldn’t help but chuckle. As she listened to each of Iris’s drunken incidents, she felt the grief’s tight grip loosen.

Sniffling, Greta rubbed at her nose with a tissue. “I’ll miss Iris. She was a lovely woman.”

Riley’s brows drew together. “You called her fit to burn a week ago.”

“I did not,” stated Greta, affronted.

Behind the old woman, Grace mouthed “She totally did,” and then placed another platter of food on the table.

“I had a lot of respect for her,” Greta claimed. “She was like me. Family oriented. Fair. Supportive. A survivor. She’d been through a lot, but she didn’t let any of it beat her. No.”

Taryn shook her head in what looked like amazement. “You have a glossy opinion of yourself that is massively undeserved.”

Makenna nodded in agreement. “Some find ignorance to be bliss, I suppose.”

“My boys are the ones living in ignorance,” sniped Greta. “For some reason, they don’t see their mates as unworthy of them. Marcus did me proud finding Roni. But the rest of them . . .” Greta grimaced. “They let me down, and they let themselves down.” Her eyes slid to Frankie. “I had high hopes for Trick and Dominic, but there you sit with my Trick’s mark on your neck—bold as brass, like the hussy you are. That wouldn’t have happened back in my day. Nooooo. I never let anyone but my Arthur leave a brand on me.”

Frankie snickered. “You also took your driver’s test on a dinosaur.”

Clapping, Riley threw back her head and laughed. The kids didn’t seem to have any clue what she found so funny, but they started clapping along.

Jaime bumped Frankie’s shoulder with her own. “Iris would have loved that one.”

At that moment Trey, Dante, Tao, and the enforcers filed into the room. Trick sank into the seat beside Frankie and kissed her temple. “What’s so funny that has Riley doubled over with laughter?”

Frankie just shook her head. “Is everything okay? Did the meeting have anything to do with Drake?”

Piling food on his plate, Trick explained, “Trey wanted to let me know that Morelli called him with a warning.”

She frowned. “What kind of warning?”

“Drake’s gone missing. Or, more likely, he’s gone AWOL.”

“Meaning he could come after you again.” Her wolf’s upper lip curled. “I’d say it was good of Morelli to warn you, but he’s probably done it so he can deny blame for whatever Drake does or doesn’t do next.”

“That was my thought. We’ll find out soon enough. For now, let’s eat.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Frankie had never been to a shifter funeral before. It wasn’t much different from those held for humans, except that there were no clergy members reading out scriptures. Instead the Bjorn Alpha, Josh—who was also one of Dante’s older brothers—had spoken of what a warm, supportive pack member Iris had been and then voiced his wishes that she rested well. After that, other Bjorn wolves and relatives began to take turns speaking, sharing funny or touching stories.

Frankie listened intently to the stories, eager to hear more about her grandmother. Focusing on them also helped her ignore the curious glances and whispers coming from the Bjorn wolves.

People sniffled and sobbed, even as they chuckled at the anecdotes. One thing was clear—Iris had been well loved by these people. It wasn’t surprising; the woman had won Frankie’s affection quickly. Right then her heart felt heavy, and there was a huge lump in her throat. Yeah, the tears were building. Hoping to ward them off, she took a deep breath and drew in Trick’s scent and the smells of earth, fresh flowers, and sun-warmed stone.

Right then, his warm hand supportively engulfed hers. He never strayed far from her side. He was always touching, kissing, and soothing her. When he wasn’t holding her hand, he was massaging her nape, cupping her elbow, splaying his hand on her back, or resting it on her shoulder. Frankie soaked in his support, needing his strength.

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