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“But he still won’t accept my place in her life,” Trick guessed.

“No, he won’t. He’s as pissed at you as he is at himself. My mother doesn’t agree that they did anything wrong, so she’s giving him the cold shoulder now too.” Brad sighed. “Look, I love my niece. I want her to be happy. I do. However, given how the true mate thing worked out for my sister, I’m not convinced you will make Frankie happy. Especially when the whole situation is ripping my family apart.”

“Your parents are choosing to let it rip the family apart. They could just let it be, for Frankie’s sake. They won’t.”

“No, they won’t. That’s why I’m here.” Brad briefly averted his eyes. “I don’t agree that this is the right thing to do, but if I don’t do this for my mother, she’ll find another way to ensure that it’s done.” He pulled something out of his pocket and held it out.

Taking the small sheet of paper from him, Trick barely held back a growl.

“That’s a check for fifty thousand dollars.”

“I can read.”

“It’s all yours . . . if you walk out of Frankie’s life and never return to it.”

Seething, Trick stared the human right in the eyes as he carefully tore the check into tiny pieces. Some landed on the ground, others fluttered away with the cool breeze.

Brad’s jaw hardened. “Then maybe this will change your mind.” He crossed to his car, reached into the open window, and pulled out a manila envelope.

Trick took it with a bored sigh and slid out the thin file. Anger flared inside him as he read it. Apparently Brad had done a little fishing.

“It wasn’t easy to find that information,” said Brad, the smugness in his voice making Trick’s wolf snap his teeth. “Once Frankie learns that, she’ll hate your ass. She’ll be long gone. If you walk away now, she never has to know. She’ll be upset with you for dumping her, sure, but at least she won’t hate you.”

Trick returned the file to the envelope and tossed it at Brad’s feet. “Your source either didn’t know the entire story or decided to spice it up a little with some fiction. Either way, it makes no difference.”

“It would make a difference to Frankie, if she found out.”

“She already knows.”

Brad paused, nostrils flaring. “Knows that she’s not your true mate? That you walked away from your true mate years ago and that she tried to kill herself because of it?”

“I don’t explain myself to people, but I’ll give you a little info, since you’re Frankie’s uncle. Jana wasn’t my true mate; she was an emotionally unbalanced juvenile with a crush. Nothing more, nothing less. If you want to believe differently, that’s on you. But Frankie knows the truth; that’s all that matters to me.” Trick flicked a dismissive look at the manila envelope. “All this was a waste of my time and yours.”

“Do you care for her? Because if you do, you owe my parents.”

Trick couldn’t believe his fucking ears. “Say that again,” he rumbled.

Brad drew back. “You should be thankful to them. They raised her to be the person she is today. They cared for her, kept her safe, ensured she got a good education, and—”

“Lied to her all her life,” Trick finished. “They also made her feel like she didn’t quite measure up to their expectations. And considering they ripped Frankie’s paternal family apart by cutting them from her life, you could say they had this coming.”

Brad’s eyes narrowed. “You’re loving this, aren’t you?”

“That’s where you’re wrong. I don’t like that sides have formed. I want Frankie to have all the people she cares for in her life. You and your parents are the ones who are stopping that from happening, not me. And for what? It’s not like we’ll expect any of you to step on our territory or welcome the pack into your lives. But if you and your parents want to be in her life, you all need to jump down from your high horses. So fuck them, fuck you, and fuck your bribe.”

Brad’s eyes flickered. “It was my mother who—”

“Your mother might know you’re here, but she didn’t ask you to write that check. You’re laying the blame on her in case I tell Frankie what happened here today.”

“If you tell her, she’ll be pissed that you came without her.”

“Yes, she will. But there will be no lies between me and my mate. I won’t keep this from her, even though I know it will hurt her. Like I told your father, you’re all driving her away with the shit you’re pulling. I think she’d have expected this kind of thing from your parents, but not from you. You’ve just sincerely fucked yourself over.” With that, Trick hopped into the SUV and sharply twisted the keys in the ignition. “Motherfucking motherfucker.”

Marcus blew out a breath. “Hell, Trick, I don’t know how you didn’t kick the shit out of the bastard.”

Trick reversed out of the space and drove out of the lot. “It was hard not to, but it’ll hurt Frankie bad enough to hear that her uncle tried bribing me. It would hurt her even more to hear that her mate and her uncle then came to blows.”

Marcus inclined his head. “You did the right thing. If you’d left a single blemish on him, he’d have gone crying to her with a bullshit story that made him a victim and you the villain.”

“I’d have left more than a blemish on him,” Trick rumbled. He’d have delivered some serious pain on the asshole.

After a long moment, Marcus said, “Hey, did she tell you that she and I had a little talk?”

Although Trick knew that his friend was changing the subject to help Trick cool his anger, he went with it. “She mentioned it. Reassured me that there’d be no awkwardness between you and her.”

“Some females wouldn’t accept our past so easy. They’d let jealousy eat them up. She obviously has enough confidence in you and what you feel for her to not worry about whoever came before her. That’s good. And it means you’ve done the right thing by not pushing her. Winning her trust and moving at her pace was what she needed. But I’m sensing that it’s getting harder for you not to push.”

“If you’re sensing it, she’ll be sensing it too.” She hadn’t said a word about it, though.

“Probably. You won’t have to hold out much longer, Trick. I’ve watched her with you. Watched her gradually soften. She used to frown at the way you constantly touched her. Now she leans into it. She never used to touch you back, but now she does. She’s also started to relax around the rest of the pack, but she doesn’t smile at us or talk as openly with us as she does with you. And if you’re not in the room with her, she’s uncomfortable.”

While the latter made Trick feel kind of smug, it also saddened him that she hadn’t yet fully relaxed with the pack. He understood it would take a little time, though.

“I like the way you are with her,” said Marcus. “And I have to say, I’m surprised, relieved, and impressed that she leans on you. A lot of females see that as a weakness. She seems to respect your need to take care of her, and she’s happy to let you do it—maybe because she’s never had anyone to lean on before and she’s not afraid to try it on for size. These are all good things that indicate that she’s happy with you and accepts that you’re her mate. She just needs to face whatever’s getting in the way of the bond, which I’m guessing is connected to the Newmans.”

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