“What does Lydia want?” demanded Marcia, distaste in her tone. “Money, I’m guessing.”
“To meet,” said Frankie.
Marcia huffed. “Well, she’ll be rather disappointed when you turn her down, won’t she?”
“Her mother’s dying. She’s hoping I’ll pay her a visit so she can see me just once before she passes.”
“In other words, she’s trying to manipulate you with a sob story.” Marcia sniffed. “You will, of course, ignore her attempt to reconnect with you.”
Frankie’s spine snapped straight, and her wolf growled. “Will I?”
Marcia’s eyes went diamond hard. “Yes, you will. They defended him, Francesca. He killed Caroline, but they defended him. Said he must have been drunk or had a moment of madness—like there could be any excuse for what was done to her. They kept questioning you, trying to put words into your mouth, wanting you to say something that would somehow vindicate him. Over and over, you kept saying in a zombielike voice, ‘He hurt her.’”
Hearing footsteps, Frankie looked over her shoulder to see her uncle waltz in. As usual, the accountant was dressed in a tailored suit and wearing a charming smile.
“Frankie, sweetheart, it’s great to see you.” Brad kissed her cheek. “Too beautiful for words.”
“You knew the truth, didn’t you?” Frankie accused him. “You knew they lied about my parents.”
His grin melted away and he swallowed. “How did you find out?”
It was Marcia who answered, each word curt and bitter as she explained the matter to her only son.
Brad rested a hand on Frankie’s arm. “Keeping the truth from you was for the best.”
Frankie shrugged him off. “Best? Best for who, Brad?”
“For who? For you, of course.”
Frankie snorted. She wasn’t a weak, fragile flower; she could have handled the truth. Turning back to her grandparents, she said, “Look, I get why you’d want a child to forget something so traumatic. I understand why you’d rather never speak of what happened. But I’m twenty-seven years old. I’ve been old enough to understand and deal with the truth for a long time. You could have told me at any point. You didn’t. I have the right to know.”
Geoffrey held her gaze steadily—there was no remorse there. “Why hurt you with the truth?”
“The lie hurts too. It makes me wonder what else you’ve lied to me about.”
Geoffrey exhaled heavily. “You’re angry. You have a right to be, I suppose, but I can’t be sorry for doing what I did to spare you pain. Your life isn’t based on a lie, Francesca. We simply didn’t tell you who your real father was or how your mother really died. Would telling the truth have really made such a difference to your life or changed the person you are today?”
Maybe, maybe not. She looked at Marcia and said, “I get it now. I could never quite measure up to your expectations, no matter what I did. You love me, I know that. But you’ve always held a little something back. I’m half shifter. I’m half of the person who killed your daughter. You’ve never been able to truly see all the way past that, have you?”
Marcia’s mouth hardened, but she didn’t confirm or deny it. She didn’t have to.
Brad put his hand on her shoulder and turned her to face him. “Look at me, Frankie. You’re loved deeply and unconditionally by every one of us. You’re hurt and angry and overthinking things. I can understand why—you’ve had one hell of a shock and it’s knocked you off balance. But don’t let that shake your confidence and trust in your family.”
“The wolves want to meet with her,” Marcia snippily announced.
Brad’s eyebrows snapped together. “Why? They were perfectly happy to watch her come live with us. They didn’t fight to keep you, Frankie. Didn’t even try to see you. Contacting you now and messing with your life this way—that’s not right.”
“It doesn’t seem as if Lydia knows that I was lied to,” Frankie told him, stepping back, needing her space.
Brad gave a quick shake of his head. “Doesn’t matter. Everyone knows that shifters are protective of their own, particularly their children. If they’d loved you, they would have fought tooth and nail to keep you. They didn’t. They turned their backs on you. Now you get to do the same thing to them. They’re not good for you, Frankie. You’re better off without them.”
Seething, Frankie clenched her fists. She needed some goddamn air. She spun on her heel and headed for the door.
“You will not meet with those wolves, Francesca. I forbid it.” The whip in Marcia’s voice made her wolf snarl, but Frankie didn’t break stride. She just kept walking.
Outside she slid into her car and let out a long breath. She’d come here hoping her grandparents would assure her that the whole thing was a case of mistaken identity. Honestly, though, she’d have found any denials hard to believe. It just seemed way too coincidental that there would be another shifter called Francesca Newman who had lost her parents and been raised by her human grandparents.
So, yeah, she’d expected to hear that there were plenty of things they hadn’t told her. She hadn’t thought one of those things would be that her father had murdered her mother.
Noticing a blue light flashing in her peripheral vision, she saw that she’d left her cell phone in the cup holder and knew she’d received a notification of some kind. Swiping her thumb across the screen, she wasn’t surprised to see she’d received yet another e-mail from Lydia.
I’m quite sure that you’re the Francesca Newman I’m looking for. I’ve kept myself updated on your life, watching over you in my way. I don’t understand why you seem confused about who I am, but I hope you will meet with me tomorrow so we can discuss it and I can answer any questions you have.
I will be at the coffeehouse on Cherry Avenue tomorrow at noon. I hope you will be there.
Frankie slung her phone back in the cup holder and twisted her key in the ignition. She needed to do some damn research.
A little later she pulled up in her driveway. Inside the house she hooked her jacket over the banister before kicking off her shoes and heading down the hallway. The oak flooring was cool and smooth beneath her feet.
Her wolf was happy to be back in her territory, surrounded by the soothingly familiar scents of lavender, wood, and leather.
In the homey walnut kitchen, Frankie poured herself a glass of red wine. She had a feeling she was going to need it. She sure as hell could have done with one when she’d talked to her grandparents, she thought, as she made her way into the living area. Standing on the soft rug near the fireplace, she stared at the framed photo of her mother that stood on the mantel beside other pictures and keepsakes. What happened that night? Why did it happen?
Frankie took a long gulp of wine and then set the glass on the coffee table. Sinking into the plush sofa, she dragged her cushioned lap tray onto her thighs and then set her laptop on top of it.
Her nearest neighbor was half a mile away; thus she never received complaints about the amount of noise she made while working, and there were no sounds of kids playing, people talking, or loud music filtering through the open window. There was only the ticking of her laptop keys and the hum of the air conditioning.