He squeezed her nape. “Yeah, baby, we can go.” He signaled to Trey, who tipped his chin. Trusting his Alpha to gather the rest of their pack mates together, Trick slid an arm around Frankie’s shoulders and led her outside. The moment they stepped on the porch, those shoulders stiffened. He frowned. “You okay?”
No, Frankie wasn’t. When she’d stepped out onto the porch, a familiar scent of rain, brine, and burned wood had reached her nostrils. That was when her wolf went ape-shit—snarling, snapping her teeth, and raking Frankie’s insides with her claws.
Frankie stiffly turned to face Cruz, Eke, and Wendel. While they exchanged greetings with her and Trick, she worked hard to soothe her wolf.
“It was good of you to come, Frankie,” said Eke, face lined with grief. “My mother appreciates it.”
Cruz nodded. “She needs family around her right now.”
Wendel opened his mouth to speak, but then he shook his head. “Sorry, it’s just . . . you look so much like Caroline that it’s like having her standing in front of me.”
The affection with which he said her mother’s name unsettled Frankie. She lifted a brow. “You knew her well?”
“Not well, but I’d like to think we were friends. Some humans find it hard to adjust to being within a pack. Not Caroline. She took to pack life as if she were a shifter.”
Mouth curving into a nostalgic smile, Cruz nodded again. “Christopher was so proud of that. He’d have been so proud of your success too. He’d have liked that you were an artist, like him.” Hearing the shake in his voice, Frankie thought he might cry. Instead he gave her a wobbly smile.
As if eager to change the subject and rescue Cruz’s mood, Eke quickly said, “You were always in Iris’s thoughts, Frankie. I’m sure you’ve noticed there were many pictures of you around her cabin.”
“There was one of my sculptures too,” she told him.
Wendel blinked. “She didn’t tell me she had one of your pieces.”
Before Frankie could tell him that she suspected Iris hadn’t known it was one of hers, a dark-skinned female popped her head through the doorway and shouted, “Boys, your mom is looking for you!”
Sighing, Cruz shrugged a little helplessly. “We have to go. You take care now, Frankie.” He tipped his chin at Trick and then headed inside the cabin. Muttering their goodbyes, Wendel and Eke followed their brother.
Relief scuttled down Frankie’s spine, and she rolled back her stiff shoulders. It wasn’t until she was inside the SUV, though, that her wolf finally simmered down. Breathing deeply, she clicked on her seat belt, hoping that Lydia and Cam would hurry their asses up.
Trick rested one hand on the wheel. “Okay, baby, here’s where you tell me why the triplets make you so uncomfortable.”
Agitated, Frankie threw her hands up. “It’s not me. It’s my wolf.”
His brow creased. “Your wolf?”
“She loses her shit around them. The scent they all share sets her off every time. I don’t know why, but she despises them.”
Trick’s frown deepened. “Really?” He glanced at the cabin, thoughtful. “I don’t recall them ever doing anything to upset you when we were kids. But if your wolf behaves that way, there must be a good reason.” He was about to say something else, but then he noticed that his parents were nearing Iris’s cabin. It appeared that they’d walked from the graveyard instead of driving, and he wondered if his father had insisted on it out of respect for Iris—hoping that Trey would be gone by the time they got there so that any awkward scenes could be avoided.
Noticing him, they stopped at the driver’s side of the vehicle. Trick wound down the window and inclined his head.
Michael nodded, face drawn. “Son.” He looked past him and said with a strained smile, “You must be Francesca. I’m Michael, Trick’s father. This is Uma, his mother.”
Uma smiled. “It’s nice to see you again, Francesca, though it would have been much better if it had happened under other circumstances. I’m sorry about your grandmother. Iris was an amazing woman.”
Unsure what to say, Frankie simply agreed. “Yeah, she was.”
Uma turned her smile on Trick. “You look good.”
“I feel it,” said Trick.
“Will you be moving back to Bjorn Pack territory?” Uma asked Frankie.
“No,” replied Frankie. “I, um, I’ll be moving to Phoenix Pack territory at some point.”
Satisfaction flooded Trick at that, and he rested a hand on her thigh.
“I see.” Uma looked from her to Trick. “You’re mates.” She slanted her head, eyes on Trick. “I remember how protective you were of her. I didn’t think anything of it. I should have.” She raised a brow. “You don’t think it would be best for Francesca if she were to return to her childhood—”
“Do not try to use this situation to meet your own needs,” Trick snapped.
Michael lifted a placating hand. “Let’s drop this, yes?”
Uma’s mouth tightened. “Fine. I hope you’ll at least make time to visit us soon. And grandchildren would be nice, by the way.” The cabin door creaked open, and Trey stepped out. Uma’s face went rock hard.
“Mom, leave it,” Trick bit out. “Your anger is pointless.”
Uma turned back to him. “You lost years of your mate’s life because her grandparents took her from you. Are you not angry with them for that?”
He knew what she was getting at. “Trey didn’t take me from you. I made the decision to leave. I made the choice that was right for me. Dad knows that, which is why he’s mad at me, not Trey.”
Michael exhaled a weary sigh. “I lost that anger years ago, Trick.”
Trick shook his head. “I see it in your eyes.”
“That anger isn’t directed at you. I’m angry that the strain between us went on too long for the damage to ever be completely repaired.” Michael looked at Frankie. “We’re sorry for your loss, Francesca.” At that, he guided Uma away. Whatever he whispered into her ear stopped her from spewing any harsh words at Trey as they passed him.
Trick’s shoulders lost their tension as Lydia and Cam finally appeared. “Now we can get the fuck out of here.”
When they all finally returned to Phoenix Pack territory, Trick took Frankie to his room and lay her on the bed beside him. “Let it go,” he gently ordered. And she did. The entire time she cried, he held her close, whispering soothing words and planting light kisses on her face and hair. Once she was all cried out, she drifted off, still in his arms. He tightened his hold on her and watched over her while she slept.
Her foot caught on something, and Frankie cursed as she stumbled. Only Trick’s hold on her arm kept her upright. She hissed. “Will you take this damn blindfold off me now!”
“Nearly there,” he assured her.
“You said that twenty minutes ago.”
“Baby, we’ve only been walking for five.”
She snarled at him, though she had no idea if he noticed. When he’d said that he had a surprise for her, she hadn’t expected that they’d need to go stomping through the woods to reach it. Well, she was stomping, causing leaves to crackle and twigs to snap beneath her feet. Trick didn’t make a sound. If it weren’t for his hand on her skin and his scent surrounding her, she wouldn’t even know he was there.