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“Go see your mate,” Trey told him. “Make sure she’s okay.”

With a curt nod, Trick left the office and stalked out of the caves and through the woods. As he neared the studio, he heard rock music blasting out of her speakers. Honestly, he didn’t know how the noise could possibly help her concentrate, but whatever worked.

In the studio she was bent over a huge, shapeless clump of clay. Slowly and cautiously he crossed to her and said, “Hey, baby. What’s that going to be?”

“No idea.” She flicked him a sideways glance. “Lydia went to see you, huh?” she guessed.

Taking her by the shoulders, Trick gently turned her to face him, taking in her pinched expression and pained stare. “Who called you, and what did they say to upset you?”

“It was my grandparents’ housekeeper, Edna.” She swallowed. “Geoffrey was admitted into the hospital this morning. He was shot in the shoulder outside the court building.”

“Shot?” he echoed.

“He’s okay. The shooter either had a shit aim or hadn’t wanted to kill him.” Frankie took in a shaky breath. “At first I was just shocked. I couldn’t feel anything. I didn’t know what to feel. It has to make me a shitty person that I went right back to my project like—”

“You’re not a shitty person. You went back to your project the way someone else would have reached for a bottle of whiskey or a Valium. What you do here calms you and gives you an outlet. So now that the shock is subsiding, how do you feel?”

“Worried, even though he’s okay. And . . . well, pissed.” The moment she admitted to the emotion, her anger truly hit her. She hissed through her teeth. “They didn’t even call to tell me about it, Trick. It’s one thing to disapprove of me and need to make their point by giving me the cold shoulder. It’s a whole other thing to not even call me when my grandfather is hurt.”

Trick drew her against him and held her close, stroking her hair. “Breathe with me, Frankie. Nice and slow. That’s it.” When she seemed to have found her calm, he pulled back to meet her gaze. “Come on. We’ll lock this place up and go back to our room so you can get changed.”

“Changed for what?”

“I doubt you want to go to the hospital looking like that.”

“I won’t be welcome,” she said, her voice low. “They’ll just send me away. Going up there would make me a glutton for punishment.”

“But if something went wrong and he didn’t recover, you wouldn’t forgive yourself for not at least trying to see him.” That was the only reason Trick gave a damn about her going there. “You have every right to be at the hospital, Frankie. But if you really don’t want to go, we won’t go. It’s that simple. I just don’t want you to do something you might later regret.”

“They’ll chase me out of there.”

“They might try.” Trick wouldn’t let them. “I’m coming with you. I know they won’t like it, but I won’t hang back. Not just because I don’t trust them with you, but because they need to get used to the simple fact that I’m part of your life now.”

Frankie gave a slow nod. “Okay.”

“And if they behave like assholes, you can trust that I’ll fuck your anger out of you later.”

Her brow slowly lifted as amusement trickled through her. “How magnanimous of you.”

An hour or so later, they walked through an automatic sliding door right into a hospital waiting room, where rows of plastic chairs lined the plain white walls. The only real color came from artificial plants, posters, and magazines. Her wolf’s nose wrinkled at the scents of antiseptic, hand sanitizer, bleach, and coffee.

Marcia and Brad sat opposite each other, their postures stooped, looking lost in their own thoughts. Walking toward them, Frankie cleared her throat to be heard over the sounds of people muttering and the squeak of shoes as staff walked the halls in color-coded scrubs.

Marcia straightened in her seat, surprised. “Francesca.” Emotion briefly glittered in her eyes, but it was gone too quickly for Frankie to identify it. “How did you find out?”

Tone dry, Frankie said, “I’m well, thanks, how are you?”

Brad raked a hand through his hair. “Frankie, I—”

“We’ll pretend that you didn’t meet with Trick to bribe him to leave my life and that you have no idea who he is,” said Frankie, her voice even. This wasn’t the time to let loose her anger. “Brad, Marcia—this is Trick, my mate. Trick, that’s my uncle, Brad, and my grandmother, Marcia.” Neither of them did more than cast Trick a brief look, but at least they hadn’t scowled or attempted to send him away. “How is Geoffrey?”

Brad took a shaky breath. “The doctors said he’ll be fine. The bullet went straight through and didn’t hit any vital organs, but he lost a fair bit of blood. He’s had a transfusion and . . .” Brad swallowed. “It was hard to see him like that. Pale. Weak.”

“And the shooter?”

“She was arrested.” He shifted in his seat. “I’d say, ‘Sit down,’ but these chairs will make your ass numb.”

His attempt at humor didn’t break the tension, but she appreciated the effort. She didn’t sit—not simply because she didn’t feel welcome, but also because too much tension rode her body. “Do the police know why the woman shot him?”

“It was someone from an old case,” said Brad. “A custody battle.”

Frankie’s brow knitted. “Custody?”

“A couple wanted custody of their grandchildren. Their daughter joined one of those New Age cults after her husband died, and they didn’t think it was a suitable environment for the children. Their daughter didn’t want her parents to have visitation rights with the children, said her father used to . . . sexually abuse her. She said the cult was her sanctuary and that the children would be safe there. The battle was long and ugly.”

“Geoffrey granted the grandparents custody,” Frankie guessed.

“Yes.” He looked down at his hands, seeming lost. “Recently, one of the children—she was thirteen—killed herself. She wrote a letter, claiming her grandfather abused her and she couldn’t take it anymore.”

And then Frankie understood. “The mother shot Geoffrey.”

“She shot her father too,” said Brad. “He’s dead.”

If they couldn’t see the correlation to their own situation, they were blind. It was obvious that Geoffrey had seen Caroline and Francesca when he looked at that woman and her children. He’d seen the pack and Christopher when he looked at the cult. And he’d seen himself and Marcia when he looked at the grandparents. Which was why he should never have presided over that case, but there was little point in voicing what was so abundantly clear.

“He’s speaking with the police at the moment,” said Marcia, twirling her wedding band around her finger. “You can talk to him afterward, if you’d like.”

Frankie nodded. “I’ll wait.”

Trick put his mouth to her ear. “Want coffee?”

“No, thanks. It’ll either be weak or sludge.” She rubbed her temple. The fluorescent lighting was giving her a headache.

No one spoke another word as they waited for the police to exit Geoffrey’s hospital room. Once they finally did, Marcia jumped to her feet and pounded them with questions.

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