Trick draped his arm over the back of Frankie’s chair and drew circles on her shoulder. “Marcia felt threatened by the mating bond.”
“Brad seemed to feel the same way,” said Cesar. “Christopher was an interloper in their eyes. I’m not sure how much Brad understood about true mates, but I know his parents didn’t believe in any kind of metaphysical bond. They thought Caroline could walk away from Christopher if she ever chose to do so. They thought he’d brainwashed her into believing that she was stuck with him. Nothing Caroline said seemed to make any difference.”
Clara caught Frankie’s gaze as she said, “Although your grandparents weren’t pleased about the pregnancy, they doted on you. Didn’t they, Cesar?”
“Oh yes,” he agreed. “They were so proud, especially as you looked the image of Caroline when she was a child. They even softened toward Christopher, after a while. Unfortunately, Brad didn’t. He remained very hostile toward your father, but he loved you. ‘My Frankie,’ Brad called you.”
Finished with her pie, Clara dabbed her mouth with a soft napkin. “The point I’m trying to make is that there were always sides, even before your parents left this world. Caroline often felt torn and sad that she’d disappointed her family. But she made her decision to be with Christopher; she stuck to it. Eventually they softened. Not completely, but enough that they didn’t leave her life. Maybe they’ll soften for you, in time. It may seem highly unlikely now, but it is possible.”
Frankie wasn’t all that convinced of that, but she gave a short nod. “Wendel said that Caroline took to pack life like she was a shifter.”
Clara’s smile turned nostalgic. “Oh, she did. The day Christopher brought her here, he was the envy of the pack. All the males were sweet on her. She was just so bright and hopeful and fresh, like an ethereal fairy. None of them ever poached, of course, but they did envy your father. She only had eyes for him, and vice versa.”
Tilting her head slightly, Frankie asked, “Did anyone ever give him trouble over it?”
“Oh no. If your parents hadn’t been true mates, it’s possible that someone would have challenged him for her. But nothing could be gained from challenging a male for his true mate—to break the bond would be to kill her, so there would be no prize.” Exhaling heavily, Clara shook her head sadly. “Everyone was devastated by her death. They were even devastated by Christopher’s, despite what he’d done. He was one of us. We all loved him.”
Frankie poked her tongue into the inside of her cheek. “Is it usual for pack members to own a gun?”
Cesar blinked. “No. We were surprised to find out that he possessed one. Josh has a rifle, but it’s a keepsake of some kind; he doesn’t use it. Doesn’t need it. Shifters fight with tooth and claw, so there was no need for Christopher to own a gun. I think that was why some believed he was suicidal. But I don’t believe he bought a firearm contemplating ending his own life. He had no reason to want to die. It didn’t make sense.”
Many things made no sense, in Frankie’s opinion. “Do you have any of his things?”
“No, why?” asked Clara.
“I have some of my mom’s things. Marcia gave them to me. I have Caroline’s scent. But I don’t have his.”
Her face softened with understanding. “I’m pretty sure Iris boxed up his belongings and put them in her attic.” Clara got up, disappeared into the den, and then quickly returned. “Here. This is the key to her cabin. You’re welcome to take anything of his as a keepsake. Iris would want that, and so would he.”
Taking the key, Frankie nodded. “Thank you.”
“Me and Cam will wait here,” Lydia told her. “You should have privacy for something like that. Well, obviously, you won’t have total privacy—Trick will be with you. But I think you’d rather have him there anyway.”
Frankie smiled. “Well, how else am I going to reach the high shelves, chase off spiders, or pick up heavy boxes?”
Snorting, Trick threaded his fingers with hers and then tugged her to her feet. “Come on. Let’s get it done.”
Clara followed them to the front door. “Oh, Frankie, you asked about the sculpture. It only occurred to me later that you may have been interested about it because it was one of yours—especially with it being somewhat creepy. Is that why you asked?” At Frankie’s nod, she said, “Thought so. Well, I asked around, tried to find out who bought it. No one seems to know.”
Veiling her disappointment, Frankie gave her a grateful smile. “All right. Thanks.” Outside, she spoke to Trick. “Maybe Abigail can track the buyer of the sculpture. I’ll ask her.”
“Good idea.” Trick walked her to the SUV. “You sure you want to do this?”
“All right.” He opened the passenger door for her. “Get in.”
Minutes later, they pulled up outside Iris’s cabin. Except for the birds chirping and the leaves rustling, it was eerily quiet. She spared her childhood cabin a brief glance before crossing to Iris’s front door. She unlocked it, but Trick stepped inside first—the protective move made her smile.
As she walked inside, her brows lifted. “I’m surprised no one has started packing up her stuff.” Nothing appeared to have been disturbed.
“Lydia wanted to start straightaway, but Clara’s not ready yet—she wants to give it a few weeks,” Trick explained. “Lydia agreed to give her time.” He led the way up the stairs and searched the ceiling until he found the hatch door for the attic. “Here it is.” He shoved it open and extended the fold-down staircase. “I’ll go first and make sure the ladder’s stable.”
Frankie rolled her eyes. “I think I’ll be fine.”
“Indulge me,” he said, climbing up the wooden rungs. The ladder wobbled only slightly. Reaching the top, Trick glanced around the attic. He ignored the pull-string light. As shifters, they could see just fine in the dark. “Quick warning: it doesn’t smell great up here.”
“I can handle it,” Frankie assured him. But when she joined him, she put her sleeve to her nose, grimacing at the scents of mold, mothballs, stale air, and mildew. Her wolf curled her upper lip in distaste. “I don’t think anyone’s been up here in a while.” Rays of moonlight speared through the single window, illuminating the dust motes in the air.
“My wolf doesn’t like the tight space.”
“Neither does mine.”
Trick stepped forward but then paused as a loose floorboard almost gave beneath his feet. “Let’s not stay up here too long.”
“Works for me.” The dusty floorboards creaked as they walked, passing trunks, sheet-covered furniture, an old record player, children’s toys, and sealed, labeled boxes. The sight of the cradle in the corner tugged a smile out of her.
She stubbed her toe on something and hissed. “Motherfucker.” Looking down, she realized she’d almost knocked over a painting propped up against a large chest.
Crouching down, Trick took a good look at it. “This could be one of Christopher’s. He liked to paint landscapes.”
“Maybe this chest could have his old stuff in it, then,” mused Frankie.