“Maybe.” Trick moved the painting out of her way. “Want to do the honors yourself?”
“Yes.” Crouching beside him, she flicked open the metal hinge and shoved up the heavy lid, wincing at the loud creak. The chest shook, and dust clouded the air. She turned her face away, covering her nose. “Damn.”
“Hey, looks like you were right.”
Frankie turned back to the chest. At the top was a framed portrait of a teenage Christopher. She looked at it for a moment and then carefully placed it on the floor. She flipped through the other items—there were clothes, books, baseball cards, sports medals, and . . . “Nice.” She lifted the chain. At first the pendants looked like military dog tags. But then she realized that one of the tags was thicker than the other. “I think it’s a locket.”
Using her nail, she pried it open. There was a photo on either side—one of Caroline and one of Frankie as a toddler. Swallowing hard, she closed the locket and looked at the thinner dog tag. Engraved on it was “To the best mate a woman could wish for. Happy birthday, Chris.”
When she went to return it to the chest, Trick gently shackled her wrist and said, “You should take the locket.”
Her brow creased. “But—”
“Your parents would want you to have that, just as you would if the situation were reversed. This meant something to them, just as you do. Clara said you were welcome to take something as a keepsake.”
“Yeah, but this is jewelry. It looks expensive.”
“When people come to pack Iris’s things, they’ll take all this stuff too. A lot of it will be thrown away or donated to charity. Lydia would probably see this and keep it, but she’d then give it to you anyway. No one would begrudge you taking it.”
She twisted her mouth, torn. Maybe she should ask Lydia first and—
Trick took it from her and shoved it in his pocket. “There. Now I’ve taken it. Your conscience is clear.”
Frankie softly snorted in amusement. “If I wasn’t busy, I’d make a citizen’s arrest.” She lifted one of Christopher’s shirts to her nose. Beneath the smell of stale cotton was . . . “Earthy musk, dark chocolate orange, and . . . Caroline. I remember this smell.” For some reason her eyes filled. “I didn’t remember hers as clearly as I do his. That makes no sense. I have some of her old things.”
“Yes, but those things probably belonged to her before she mated with Christopher, so her scent would be slightly different on those. You only knew your parents when their scents were intertwined,” he pointed out.
Damn, she hadn’t thought of it that way.
“If you were to find something that belonged to her after she mated with Christopher, her scent would then be as memorable to you as his is.” Trick flicked a look at the shirt. “How do you feel when you inhale his scent?”
“It makes me feel safe and happy,” she admitted in a low voice.
“Until the end, you were safe, and you were happy.”
“Some think Christopher killed himself because he didn’t want to live without her, but wouldn’t he have died from the severing of the bond anyway?”
“Right. But most believe he wasn’t thinking clearly. He was acting on pure emotion. Emotion can make you do stupid things. I always thought it was more likely that he pulled that trigger because he hated himself for what he’d done to your mother and just couldn’t live with it a moment longer—that he didn’t think he deserved to live a moment longer.”
“Maybe.” Dust tickled the back of her throat, and she coughed.
“Ready to go?”
“Yeah. I’m ready.” She returned everything to the chest, secured it shut, and then stood upright. Rubbing her hands together to shake loose the dust, she said, “I’m glad I did this.”
He gave her nape a light squeeze. “Good.” Turning, Trick ducked, careful not to knock his head on a wooden beam, and then crossed to the ladder.
He glanced over his shoulder. “What?” But she didn’t answer. She was staring at a huge cardboard box. He stalked to her side and saw that “Caroline’s things” had been scribbled on the side of the box with a black marker. He also saw that someone had clawed through the masking tape, leaving the top flaps open. Peeking inside, he frowned. “There’s nothing in there.”
“Nothing?” Frankie looked in the box. “Why would someone take her stuff?”
He shrugged. “Maybe Iris sent whatever was in here to your grandparents. Just because they didn’t give you anything of Caroline’s from after she was mated doesn’t mean that they don’t actually have anything.”
“I guess you’re right.” It just seemed odd to Frankie that the empty box had been left behind.
“Come on.” He led the way out of the attic, closed the hatch behind them, and then guided her down the stairs. As they were passing the shelves, Trick paused. “Want to take the sculpture? She’d rather you have it than anyone else. She’d have liked that it came full circle.”
Frankie nodded. “Grab it.” Outside she took a deep breath, breathing in the clean air. As they dusted off their clothes, her gaze was drawn to her childhood cabin. “I want to go in there.”
Trick stiffened, and his wolf growled in objection. “Frankie, you’ve already put yourself through something emotionally taxing tonight.”
“Actually, it wasn’t taxing. I feel better for it.” Which tremendously surprised her.
“I’m glad, but you won’t feel better for walking through that place.”
“Maybe not. But it’s just something I feel I have to do.”
“Is it something you really have to do right now? Because we’re both covered in dust, and Lydia and Cam are waiting for us. You said that going through your father’s things has helped you feel better. Take the time to enjoy that.”
Frankie eyed him curiously. She could feel his anxiety through the bond. “Why don’t you want me to go inside?”
Trick crossed to her and curved his hand around her neck. “Because I know you’re hoping that something will jog your memory of that night, even though it’s highly unlikely. Lots of things make no sense for you. You want answers. I get it, and I don’t blame you for that. But it will only hurt you when it doesn’t work. I’ve told you before, no one hurts my mate—not even her.”
“I’m not expecting to have flashbacks. I was so young when it happened . . .”
“But you’re hoping that you somehow miraculously will. You’re still mad at yourself because you buried the memories and you can’t seem to get them back.”
Frankie ground her teeth. It really was annoying just how well he read her.
“Look, if you really feel you have to do this, I’ll make it happen. I’ll get permission from Josh to go through the place. But can we not do it tonight? Going through your father’s things was huge for you—even though it turned out to be a good thing, it still wasn’t easy. Let’s take it one step at a time.” He rested his forehead against hers. “Please. For me.”
She took in a long breath. “Okay.”
His face softened. “Okay.”
Shivering, Frankie rubbed her upper arms. It was cold and dark and dusty in the display room. The eyes of her sculptures were closed. They were sleeping. She had to be quiet.