For days she’d been very aware that he was hiding something from her—he’d occasionally shot her a little secret smile that had a slight taunt to it. But no amount of bugging on her part had made him even admit to having a secret, let alone made him tell her what it was.
Busy working on her sculpture, she’d let it go, especially since immersing herself in her work stopped her from thinking about the messes in her life. It had been almost two weeks since Iris’s funeral. Though the grief had lost its cutting edge, it still hurt to think of her and—
Frankie nearly tripped again. “Fuck, Trick, you need to take this thing off before I fall flat on my face.” Her wolf was embarrassed on Frankie’s behalf.
“Not yet,” he said, words vibrating with humor.
“Asshole.” Grinding her teeth, she kept walking—well, stomping. It felt like forever before he finally brought her to a halt.
“Don’t move from this spot, and do not take off the blindfold.”
Planting her hands on her hips, she impatiently drummed her fingers. “Fine.” There was the sound of metal screeching, like a roll-up door was being lifted. Then Trick was behind her, gently guiding her forward and inside . . . something. Before she could wonder at the slight draft or investigate the scents, the blindfold fell away.
“Surprise,” Trick whispered into her ear.
Frankie’s mouth dropped open, and her arms slipped to her sides. The building was pretty much a replica of the studio attached to her house—same layout, same amount of space, same high ceiling and ventilation system. He’d even ensured that there was a patch outside for her to work on. And she feared she was going to cry.
She turned to him, knowing she had to look dazed. Words failed her, and all that came out of her mouth was, “How?”
“The Mercury Pack Alpha, Nick, has a lot of contacts. One is an architect who runs a firm—they revamped the Mercury Pack’s main lodge, built all the lodges that are scattered around Nick’s territory, and then recently constructed his pack’s motel. I told them what I wanted, and they built the studio. I was impressed by how fast they did it.”
“That’s why you haven’t been pushing me to come here during the daytime lately,” she realized. “You said it was so that I could work on my sculpture, but it was because you didn’t want me to hear the construction work.”
He nodded. “That was also why we didn’t go on any more runs in our wolf forms around here.” They’d done it near her house instead. Trick stood back, mouth curved, as she wandered around the large space, touching things with a proprietary edge and leaving her scent everywhere. “So are you happy with it?”
A short, spontaneous laugh popped out of her. “How can I not be?” She crossed to him and looped her arms around his neck. “I really didn’t expect you to do this.” Her voice cracked. “I figured I’d just keep using the studio at my house.”
Trick smoothed his hands up and down her back. “This territory is your home. I want you to have everything you need for when you officially move here.”
She bit her lip. “Thank you.”
Smiling at the way her eyes sparkled, he said, “You’re welcome.”
Struggling to explain how fucking amazed and grateful she was, Frankie said, “I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.” Like she’d had a few too many glasses of wine. “You’re the shit, Trick Hardy.”
He laughed, pleased to see her happy. His wolf was smug about their being the cause of that happiness. “How long before the hellhorse is complete?”
“Another couple of days.”
Good, thought Trick. Once it was done and it could be safely moved, he intended to press the matter of her moving to pack territory. “I take it you’ll be working on it some more today.” Which he fully supported. The sooner it was done the better.
“I have to head down to the salvage yard first. It’s a great place to get scrap metal. Before that, though, I’ll need to go to the house and get the van I keep parked at the back of the studio.”
If he didn’t have an important meeting to attend, he’d go with her. Hearing her talk about sculpting, Trick had become unexpectedly fascinated by it. He was interested in every step of her process, but he couldn’t be there for this one. “I want to sketch you while you work one day.”
Her nose wrinkled. “I don’t let people watch me while I work.”
“Which is why I’ll come up with a clever bribe.”
“I know what my baby likes.”
“Yeah.” Wrapping his arms tight around her, he lifted her off her feet and kissed her. The taste of her swam through him, invigorating and marking him and filling every empty space. They were her spaces to fill. She was born for him. His other half. Better half.
“Well, I don’t respond to bribes.”
“That’s okay. I’m good at getting what I want. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Frankie’s brows snapped together. “Why would you want to learn even one way to skin a cat?”
With a tired sigh, he just shook his head. “Forget it.”
A few hours later, Trick was leaning against the SUV, watching as a red Chevy Camaro convertible pulled up. Why the guy had asked to meet in the parking lot outside a construction site, Trick had no idea. But he didn’t trust the fucker as far as he could throw him, which meant he hadn’t come alone. Marcus was in the SUV, concealed by the tinted windows.
Within Trick, his wolf paced. He didn’t like the scents of metal, cement, sawdust, and burning plastic. Didn’t like the hammering, pounding, drilling, metal clanging on metal, or whir of a forklift. And he really didn’t want to be near the human who stepped out of the Camaro.
Said human took two confident strides toward Trick, studying him from head to toe. He probably would have looked down his nose at Trick if he weren’t a good five inches shorter. The human might seem composed, but there was an unnatural stillness about him that told Trick he was fighting the urge to fidget.
“You’re Patrick Hardy.” It was a statement that held a small note of accusation.
Trick just looked at him blankly, letting the moment stretch out. He didn’t push away from the SUV; he just continued leaning against it, keeping his shoulders loose and his stance casual. “Yeah.”
“I’m Brad Newman.”
“I know.” Trick had met him several times as a child. Apart from the lines of age on his face, the guy hadn’t changed much. He’d e-mailed Trick the previous evening, wanting to arrange a meeting. It was mostly curiosity that had made Trick agree.
Brad smoothed his tie. “Does Frankie know about this?” The question was posed casually, but it was clear that he was hoping the answer was no.
Trick shook his head. “I didn’t see the need to bother her with it.” Not until he’d gotten it over with, anyway.
“My father told me about the conversation you had with him at her house.”
“He was raging. Even threw his glass across the room. My father doesn’t rage. Then he crumpled. Honestly crumpled—another thing he doesn’t do. I knew then that he wasn’t just angry about her having a relationship with a shifter, that there was something else. So I badgered him to tell me the rest.” Brad licked his lower lip. “He was upset because you made him face a few things. You made him see that both he and my mother let Frankie down in a number of ways. From what he told me, you seem to get her, which is something they never did.”