“He’s in room 4A,” Brad told Frankie.
Trick stayed close behind her as they walked down the hallway. Pushing open the door, Frankie saw Geoffrey propped up on pillows, watching the wall-mounted TV. She was surprised to see him hooked up to so many different machines that monitored his vitals, since he wasn’t ill. She wasn’t sure whether it was pain, blood loss, shock, or a combination of all three, but he looked pale even against the bright white linens.
As the door closed behind her and Trick, the noises of the waiting room were replaced by the soft drip of the saline, the reassuring steady beat of the heart monitor, and the low sounds coming from the TV.
He double-blinked at the sight of her. “Francesca.” She half expected his heartbeat to pick up, but it remained steady. “I didn’t think you would come.”
She might feel pissed and let down, but . . . “I’m not heartless.”
“No, but we’ve given that heart of yours a pounding lately.”
The admission surprised her. “You remember Trick.”
“I do.” His head slightly moved in what could have been a weak, hesitant nod of greeting, but Frankie couldn’t be sure.
She didn’t take the plastic chair next to the bed. Instead, careful not to bump the IV stand, she went to his side and rested her hand on the metal side rail of the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine. I don’t need to stay here overnight and have all these extra tests done.” He cast a glare at the admittance bracelet on his wrist. “Your grandmother insisted on it.”
“She’s feeling helpless. Using her pull is her way of doing something.”
“Well, I’d be far more grateful if she brought me food that wasn’t dry or tough.” He sniffed at the table at the foot of the bed, on which rested a tray with a half-eaten meatloaf. “The way she’s acting, you’d think I’d had a heart attack or was suffering from a mystery illness.”
“At least you have a private room.”
“The pain medication isn’t up to much in this place.”
“You’re just complaining because you want to go home.” She wanted to ask about the shooting, but she figured it was the last thing he’d want to talk about—especially when he’d no doubt just done that with the police.
He exhaled heavily, looking weary. “Believe it or not, Francesca, your grandmother and I have always wanted the best for you. Maybe we didn’t always do what was best for you because of our own bias and guilt.”
“Guilt?” she echoed, her brows furrowing.
“No one should have to bury their own child. Christopher might have killed her, but I let her down. If I hadn’t agreed to set aside my reservations about her mating, if I had pressured her to leave him, she would be alive today. That’s why I’ve been so immovable on this. I couldn’t bear it if you were hurt when I could have prevented it. I didn’t want to make that same mistake with you that I did with Caroline, but it would seem that I’ve made other mistakes.”
“Your guilt is pointless,” she told him. “She couldn’t have left him. Mating bonds are metaphysical constructs that connect two people to the extent that they can’t live without each other. You couldn’t have convinced her to leave him—even if you had, she’d have died anyway because they needed each other.”
He looked from her to Trick. “And you have that bond now?”
“I do. I’m sorry that you’ll never be able to support that. But if your parents hadn’t approved of Marcia, would it have made any difference to you?”
He averted his gaze. “No, I suppose it wouldn’t have.” He patted her hand, but he still didn’t meet her eyes. “I was wrong to have said that you should get a real job. I hope you can forgive that, if nothing else.”
Tears crept up on her, making her throat feel thick. Seeing that he was tiring, she said, “We have to go now. You take care.” With that, she left the room.
Trick linked their fingers. “Let’s go.” At her nod, he led her down the hallway and through to the waiting room. Brad and Marcia looked up, but their expressions were unreadable. Trick guided her past them, straight to the door.
“Francesca,” Marcia softly called out. As Frankie turned, the woman’s eyes landed on the mark on Frankie’s neck and then dulled. She knew it was a claiming bite. “I’ll have Edna keep you updated.”
In Trick’s opinion, that wasn’t fucking good enough, but it was better than nothing. He could see that Marcia desperately wanted to say something different, to extend an olive branch, but she just couldn’t yet do it. He squeezed Frankie’s hand. “Come on, baby.”
It wasn’t until they were in the SUV, buckling their seat belts, that Frankie spoke. “I didn’t expect him to talk to me, let alone say those things. I didn’t expect Marcia not to throw me out.”
“She wants to reach out to you, but she doesn’t know how. One thing you can say for her is that she didn’t lash out with her pain. Just like you didn’t lash out with yours when you were reunited with Lydia.” Frankie and her grandmother were similar in some ways—cool, protective. It was a shame that an ocean of unsaid things lay between them.
Maybe Clara was right and the Newmans would one day soften, just as they had with Caroline. But Trick had a feeling that it would take a while for that to happen, if it ever did.
Frankie’s feet made no sound as she walked down the brightly lit corridor. It seemed like forever before she arrived at her grandfather’s room. She pushed open the door. She frowned. Geoffrey was gone. There was no bed. No equipment. No TV. Only a red door at the other end of the room. Maybe there was a nurse in there.
Frankie turned the knob and walked inside. She was in her display room, surrounded by her sculptures. Chilled, she flexed her fingers and—
The chair was empty. The child was gone.
Frankie heard it then. Creaking. Like old, rickety bones trying to move. She turned, but it wasn’t the child she saw. It was Marcia, Geoffrey, and Brad. They were looking at the sculptures, bored and unimpressed.
She called out their names, but they didn’t answer. Didn’t seem to hear or see her. She called out to them again, louder this time. But her grandparents turned their backs and walked away. Brad’s body faded and morphed, and suddenly she was looking at Rio.
“You can’t keep him,” Rio told her. “Not in the long run. You’re not what he needs.”
Hearing the creak of bones, Frankie whirled on the spot. It was the child. She was crawling on the floor. She stopped. Slowly and stiffly lifted her head, making her hair part.
“Run,” she whispered.
Frankie swallowed. “Why?”
“He hurt her. He’ll hurt you.”
The smell of gunpowder permeated the room. Blood dripped down the walls. A growl echoed in the small space—a space that seemed to be getting smaller and smaller by the second.
Another growl. “You’re supposed to be in—”
Frankie’s eyes snapped open, and her body jerked. Jesus Christ. Her wolf snarled and raked her claws, disturbed and anxious. The arm that was curled around Frankie from behind briefly tightened. She swallowed with a throat that was as dry as attic dust.
Trick kissed her hair. “Another nightmare?” His voice was rough with sleep.
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