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Trick’s hands clenched around the wheel. “She’s still hoping she can find a way to make them accept her decision to have the pack in her life.”

“I don’t foresee that happening.”

“Neither do I, but they won’t think that they should feel guilty about that. They’ve always made her feel like the bad guy, and I fucking hate that. Oh, she sees that she’s not the one being unreasonable, but it still makes her feel like shit.”

“All you can do is exactly what you’ve been doing since you found her again—be there for her.” Marcus twisted his mouth. “We’re not far from her house. Why don’t we stop by and see her? I get that she’s busy, but it’s probably the only thing that will calm your ass down.”

Totally true. “She might not be back from the salvage yard yet.”

“Call her and find out.”

Frankie had just finished hauling the scrap metal out of the van and into the studio when her cell phone rang. She lowered the music and snatched the phone from the shelf. Trick’s name flashed on the screen. “Yup?” she answered simply.

“Hey, baby. You done at the salvage yard?”

She frowned at the strained note in his voice. “Yeah, I’m back at the house. Where are you?”

“About ten minutes away. I’ll be there soon to help you unload the stuff out of the van.”

Damn, he was too sweet. “I’m already done with that. But you’re still welcome to come.”

“I’ll be there soon,” he said, his voice a little warmer this time.

“Okay, I’ll—” The sound of a car engine made her turn. Seeing a blue Chevy Tahoe, she sighed. “Crap.”

“What?”

“Looks like Vance has decided to pay me a visit.”

Trick swore. “Do not let him in the house. Pull down the fucking studio door and ignore the bastard. I’ll deal with him.”

“I can handle him just fine myself.” She slowly walked out the side door as the car turned up the driveway that led to the studio. No way was she letting the bastard in her—“Wait, it’s not Vance,” she realized as she saw the license plate. Vance’s ended in “VCE.” “Motherfucker,” she spat, because the driver slammed their foot on the pedal and the tires screeched as the car zoomed right at her.

“Frankie? Frankie!” yelled Trick.

Without a thought she fled to the side door and turned into the studio, but the car followed her inside and screeched to a halt, clipping her leg hard enough to send her sprawling onto the concrete floor. Pain pounded up her leg and burned the heels of her hands. Grinding her teeth, she rolled onto her back. That was when the driver smoothly exited the car.

He looked vaguely familiar. She hadn’t gotten a good look at the guy who’d attacked Trick in the restroom, but she suspected that this was him. Drake. Well, fuck.

She clenched her fist. Where the hell was her phone? She’d dropped it when she fell, and she couldn’t see it anywhere. Dread hit her square in the chest.

In retrospect, it had been stupid to run into the studio—she would never have been able to shut the metal door in time to keep the fucker out, but she hadn’t been thinking. She’d been too busy panicking. That panic flooded her now, pumping adrenaline through her veins. She braced herself on her elbows, wondering if he could hear the frantic beat of her heart—it thrashed in her ears, just as her wolf thrashed inside her with rage.

He came toward her, whistling. “Hey, sweet girl. Fast runner, ain’t you? Just not fast enough. Now, why don’t I help you up?”

Her claws sliced out and she swiped at him, slashing his face and drawing blood. He jerked back, as if shocked by the sight of her claws. Taking advantage of that, she slashed at him again.

Laughing, he jerked back and dodged the move. Yes, he laughed. “I did not know you were a shifter. You live out here, no pack, no mate. It’s a good thing I like surprises.”

She struggled to her feet—bad idea. Her leg still throbbed with pain. Sensing he was ready to lunge, she snarled. “Don’t even try it, motherfucker.” She might not know the type of combat that shifters often learned, but she could still cause him pain.

“Sorry, sweetheart, but you need to come with me.”

“Not gonna happen.”

He moved fast. Wicked fast. His fist slammed into her jaw, dazing her. “Shame I had to mess up that pretty face,” he said. Whistling again, he dragged her toward the vehicle, but her bad leg crumpled and went out from underneath her. It caught him off guard, and he stumbled as she fell onto her back. Leaning over her, he sighed. “Do you have to be awkward?”

She thrust her claws into his abs, stabbing deep, scraping bone. “Yes.” He let her go so abruptly that the back of her head hit the concrete with an awful crack. Her head swam and nausea curdled in her stomach.

“Fucking bitch.”

A boot slammed into her stomach, knocking the breath right out of her. She curled up, hissing. Her wolf went ape-shit and lunged for the surface, but then sharp claws pressed against Frankie’s throat hard enough to break the skin. Both she and her wolf froze.

“I’m done playing,” he said. “Now, we’re going to get into the fucking car and go somewhere quiet. Somewhere where we can have some privacy. Won’t that be nice?”

Um, no. She knew deep down to her bones that if she left with him, she’d be dead within the hour. But there was no way of fighting back without getting her throat slit open. She forced her voice to shake as she said, “I’ll go with you. I won’t struggle. Just don’t kill me. Please.”

He beamed at her. “So polite. I like it when they beg. Wait until I tell your boyfriend how you begged for me. Ooh, he’ll sure as shit hate that. Now, sheathe those claws for me. That’s it. See, following orders isn’t so hard.” He dropped his claws from her throat and yanked her to her feet by her arm—fuck if that didn’t hurt. That was when she slammed her forehead into his nose. The animalistic sound that came out of his throat was a mix of anger and pain.

Even as her head pounded, she pulled free of his hold and snatched the hammer from the peg on the wall. She swung it at his head. A slight vibration shot up her arm as the hammer connected with his skull. He staggered with a pained grunt, hand flying to his head.

Knowing there was no sense in running, Frankie slowly took jerky backward steps, careful not to lose her footing. Hammer still in one hand, she unsheathed the claws of her other, waiting.

He glared at her, eyes cold, mouth twisted, blood running from his broken nose. “You’ll pay for—” He stiffened. They could both hear the mad rumbling of a car engine and the squealing of tires.

She smiled. “Here comes Trick.”

His eyes widened as he peeked outside. “Fuck!” He looked like he might make another grab for her, so she swung the hammer once more. She missed. But he swore and—clearly deciding she was more trouble than she was worth—scrambled into his car and reversed out of the studio fast. Then he sped away, out of sight, leaving a cloud of dirt in his wake.

Letting the hammer drop to the floor with a clang, she hobbled to the doorway and watched his car disappear down the road mere moments before an SUV paused just long enough for Trick to jump out. Then the SUV was gone, chasing the other vehicle.

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