Jaime’s eyes cut to her, glinting with concern. “Are you sure about this?”
No, thought Frankie, but she nodded. “It’s just something I have to do. We won’t be staying long.”
Jaime sighed. “All right. But I’m sure you’ve noticed that a lot of people are curious about you. I doubt that anyone will be rude, but they’ll have plenty of questions, and if they can get you alone they might take the chance to say some shitty stuff about the Newmans, considering that the humans were a big source of Iris’s unhappiness over the years. Stay close to Trick and the rest of our pack at all times.”
“I’m planning to.” Many Phoenix Pack members had attended. Since they all couldn’t leave their territory at the same time and no one wanted to bring the kids to the funeral, the pack had agreed that half would go to the burial and then go home so that the other half could attend the reception. That way everyone got to pay their respects to Iris, and the kids would stay home and be well protected.
Jaime looked at Trick. “I’d say, ‘Take care of her,’ but I know you will.” With that, she crossed to Dante.
Ignoring the weight of his mother’s glare, Trick guided Frankie to the SUV and opened the door. Once they were both inside, he twisted in his seat to face her. “Let it out.” She’d been holding her grief in all damn morning, and it was driving him and his wolf crazy.
“I can’t yet. Not until after the reception.”
“I can’t yet.”
He sighed. “All right. But later, you have to let it all go.”
“I will.” It was a promise.
Minutes later, Lydia and Cam joined them in the SUV. Trick drove them through the territory toward Iris’s cabin. The whole time, Frankie stared out the window, taking everything in. Of course, nothing sparked memories to surface, nothing seemed familiar. It was both frustrating and a relief.
As they pulled up near the cabin and she hopped out of the vehicle, Frankie resisted glancing at the cabin that was a few kilometers down the way. That resistance didn’t last long. The cabin seemed a little bigger than Iris’s. It was also boarded up. Apparently no one wanted to live in a place where one person had been murdered and another had committed suicide. Understandable. She was surprised the pack hadn’t just knocked the building down.
Trick held his hand out. “Ready?”
Slipping her hand into his, she nodded. Lydia and Cam entered first, which gave Frankie cover. Her sensitive stomach churned at the smells of coffee, lasagna, finger foods, and perfume. Despite the bright decor and the flower arrangements, the cabin seemed dull—probably because everyone was dressed in black and the mood was mostly bleak.
The den, dining area, and kitchen was all one open space, so it was easy to see that some people were gathered around the buffet while others bustled around the kitchen. Most, however, were seated around the den on the sofa, armchairs, and folding chairs.
She could hear people speaking in hushed tones, cutlery clinking and clattering, and the subdued laughter from those exchanging yet more funny stories.
Trick spoke into her ear. “Want me to get you a plate?”
She grimaced. “I don’t have a much of an appetite right now.”
With Trick at her side, Frankie wandered from room to room, looking at mementos, knickknacks, and framed photographs. Lydia had already boxed up the things that Iris had kept at Phoenix Pack territory, saying it had felt cathartic. Frankie wasn’t sure if she personally would have been able to handle something like that so quickly in Lydia’s situation, but she knew everyone handled grief in different ways.
She pretended she was oblivious to the stares and avoided making eye contact with any of the Bjorn wolves. In her current mood, she had no patience for small talk or probing questions. She was there for Iris, not—
Frankie came to an abrupt stop as something caught her eye. “That’s mine.”
Trick looked at the clay sculpture of a cloaked, hooded figure that was propped up on a shelf near the staircase. There was nothing but a pit of black where its face should be, making him think of a grim reaper. But that wasn’t what creeped Trick out. It was that those bony fingers were gripping the handle of a baby stroller. “You made that?”
“She never told me she had one of my pieces. She just said she saw them online.”
Trick’s brow furrowed. “It is odd that she didn’t tell you. It’s even stranger that she left it here when she moved to our territory, considering she took her most prized possessions with her.” He pursed his lips. “Maybe she didn’t know it was your work. If she had, it would have had pride of place in the den.”
“So someone bought it for her but didn’t tell her that I made it?”
He shrugged. “Seems like it.” Such an act was both kind and cruel, in his opinion. “But there’s—” He cut off when he noticed the Bjorn Alpha headed their way. Josh wasn’t a bad guy but, honestly, Trick had never liked any of Dante’s brothers. Mostly because they’d been absolute assholes to their baby brother, treating him like the runt of the pack. Well, said runt was now bigger, faster, and more dominant than all of them. Funny how things worked out.
He gave Trick a brief nod before turning to Frankie with a smile. “I’m Josh, the Alpha. But you don’t remember me, I see.”
She shook her head. “Sorry.” And she was finding it kind of annoying that some people thought they were so special that they’d somehow stick out in her memory.
He shrugged. “It’s not your fault.”
Well, obviously not, thought Frankie.
A small, plump woman sidled up to the Alpha and said, “Josh, I was hoping to—oh, you’re little Francesca, all grown up.” It was obvious that the woman had pretended she wanted to speak with Josh just so she could talk with Frankie.
Trick inwardly sighed in annoyance. She didn’t hesitate to pelt Frankie with questions, and others quickly came over and followed the woman’s lead. His pack mates realized what was happening and came over just as Trick held up his arms and interrupted.
“Frankie’s here to pay her respects to Iris. Not to answer questions. I understand why you’re curious, but you’ll have to put that aside.” Trick looked at Josh. “That includes you.”
At that moment, Clara shouldered her way through the crowd and shooed all the Bjorn wolves away, even Josh. The Alpha took pity on the grieving woman and didn’t reprimand her for the insubordinate behavior.
With a heavy sigh, Clara said, “I’m sorry, Frankie. They shouldn’t have crowded you that way. They didn’t mean any harm, but it wasn’t fair of them. How are you doing?”
Frankie swallowed. “Fine. You?”
“I’m holding up. It’s hard. She was the best friend a girl could ever have.”
Keeping her voice casual, Frankie asked, “Clara, did Iris buy this?”
Clara squinted at the sculpture. “No, she didn’t. I asked her once why she’d have such a frightening piece in her home. She said she’d never give away a gift. She was good like that.” Her chin trembled, and she dug a tissue out of her pocket. “Excuse me. I need to use the bathroom.”
Frankie blew out a breath and turned to Trick. “Can we go now?” She was tired and edgy, and her face felt stiff from how long she’d been fighting the urge to cry.
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