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Nodding, she struggled to sit upright and blew out a long breath. Trick sat up with her and grabbed the glass of water from the nightstand. She took it with a weak, grateful smile and sipped at the water. Her heart was pounding like crazy, and the beat seemed so loud in the quiet of the room.

Trick smoothed her hair away from her face. “What happened in the nightmare?”

Frankie handed him back the glass, and he returned it to the nightstand. “They’re all so similar. I’m always in my display room. Always surrounded by my sculptures. At least one of them talks to me. And I always smell that scent mixed in with blood and gunpowder. And then there’s that voice . . .”

“Come here.” Trick scooped her up and cradled her on his lap. He did his best to remain calm, knowing it was what she needed, but seeing her this way pissed him the fuck off. She always looked drained after the nightmares, as if they took a lot out of her. His wolf snuggled up to her even as he growled in frustration—the thing that was hurting their mate wasn’t something they could fight.

“What am I not seeing, Trick? What has my subconscious picked up that has gone right over my head?”

“I don’t know,” he said, rocking her gently. “I wish I did, if it meant these nightmares would go away.”

Sensing that sleep wouldn’t come easy, Frankie glanced at the clock. “It’s just past six a.m. I think I’ll go sit on the balcony for a while.”

“Okay. Come on.”

She frowned as he edged out of the bed with her still in his arms. “You don’t have to—”

“Shut up, baby.”

“Well, that’s very nice,” she muttered, though she was grateful that he’d be with her. He settled in one of the chairs with her on his lap, and she drank in the gorgeous view of the sun peeking over the mountains.

After a long silence, he asked, “You sure you’re up to seeing Clara today?”

“If I could get out of it, I would. Packing up Iris’s things isn’t my idea of a good time. But Clara and Lydia really want me to be there. Apparently it’s tradition for the women in the family to do it. And it’s hard to say no to Lydia, especially when I know she needs the support. What will you be doing with yourself?”

“I’m going with Trey, Ryan, and Dominic to check out a spot where Morelli’s rumored to be hiding. We’ve had plenty of tips since we put a price on his head. None of them have amounted to anything. He’s deep underground. But he can’t hide forever. It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

She frowned. “Who is this lady? What does it matter that she’s fat? And why does her singing have such importance?”

Trick just shook his head. “Anyway . . . we got a tip that said Morelli was hiding near the landfill. He’s probably not there either, but . . .”

“But you want to be there with Trey and the other enforcers in case Morelli is, because you want to be the one who kills him,” she understood.

“Yes.” Trick caught her gaze, wanting her to see the ruthless intent there. She needed to know he’d do it, and he’d do it without mercy or regret. “And I will be.”

“Does this mean I’ll end up cuffed to the shower wall again while you work off your brood?”

His lips twitched. “Probably. Marcus and Roni will escort you and Lydia to Bjorn Pack territory. It’s unlikely that you’ll run into any trouble there, but I want you protected.”

Although she thought two bodyguards was overkill, Frankie said nothing. The last two times he’d left her, she’d been hurt. First by Drake, then by Rio. It made sense that he’d want her to be adequately protected.

“Onto a different subject, any news about Geoffrey?” he asked.

“I spoke to Edna just before I went to bed. According to her, he’s fine.” She’d thought about calling him to check in, but if they were going to make their way back to each other, it was something they should do in baby steps.

“Good. I wouldn’t be surprised if he contacts you soon, inviting you for lunch. Your family thinks of shifters as monsters. The shooting reminded them that humans do bad things too.”

She nestled closer to him. “Yeah, I guess it did.”

Soon after breakfast, Marcus drove Frankie, Roni, Lydia, and Cam to Bjorn Pack territory. To give Clara, Lydia, and Frankie the emotional space to go through Iris’s possessions, Cam went fishing with Cesar while Roni and Marcus relaxed on Clara’s back porch.

As Clara was swathing one of Iris’s many knickknacks in bubble wrap, she asked Frankie, “So how are things with you and Trick?”

“Great,” replied Frankie, packing clothes into a box.

“Nothing can quite beat a mating bond, can it? It’s a gift that most humans will sadly never experience. I’ve always pitied them that.” Clara sighed, her smile nostalgic. “I was very young when I realized Cesar was my mate.”

Lydia’s brows lifted. “Really?”

“Fourteen. He was sixteen. It was too early for us to claim each other. Our parents wanted us to wait until I was seventeen, so we did. I didn’t let him claim me straightaway, though. No, I insisted that he court me proper.”

“Court you?” echoed Lydia, mouth twitching.

“Oh yes. I’d been reading a lot of Jane Austen novels at the time. I wanted romance. He gave it to me, bless his heart. Iris did the complete opposite when she realized Alfie was her mate. Like with Frankie, it took her a few months to see the truth. When she did, she wasted no time at all in stating that he was hers and demanding that they claim each other. The poor man was practically railroaded, but it was obvious that he was happy to be.” Clara sealed a box with tape as she spoke. “Do the Newmans know that you’re mated yet?”

“Yes,” replied Frankie. “They saw my claiming bite when I spoke to them a week ago after Geoffrey was shot.”

“Shot?”

“An old court case came back to haunt him.”

“Ah.” Clara began wrapping up another ornament with tissue paper. “How did they react to the bite?”

“They didn’t, but they didn’t chase me out of the hospital. Geoffrey admitted to making mistakes, but unless he’s willing to accept Trick, it’s neither here nor there to me. My grandparents and uncle have to know that Trick and I come as a package deal. I’m not saying they need to welcome him into the family, but they do need to accept that he’s part of mine.” The best and most important member of her family.

“It should be enough for them that Trick makes you happy,” began Lydia, “but it won’t give them any reassurance, because Christopher made Caroline happy, and yet . . .”

Frankie sighed. “And yet.” She glanced out the window, catching sight of her old home. “I have something I need to do.” She cut her gaze back to the other two females. “I want to go to the old cabin.”

Lydia’s eyes glinted with anxiety. “Frankie, I’m not sure that’s the best idea.”

“Maybe not, but I need to do it.”

“Can you at least wait until Trick gets here?” begged Lydia. “You shouldn’t do it alone.”

“He’ll try and talk me out of it. Josh granted permission for me to walk through it. I keep asking Trick to bring me here, and he keeps putting it off.” She’d be an old woman before he finally let her do it. “If it was possible that I’d have flashbacks, I’d get why you’re concerned. But whatever memories I have of that night are buried deep. For me, walking through the cabin will mean facing my past. Accepting what happened. Getting some closure.”

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