Clara’s eyes lit with understanding, but Lydia still seemed anxious.
“Trick once said to me that I need to accept my past and my heritage,” said Frankie. “He’s right. Our mating bond isn’t complete yet. What if it won’t fully snap into place until I do as Trick said and accept my past?” She lifted her chin. “I really do need to do this.”
Lydia raked a hand through her hair. “I’ll go with you. Please don’t argue. I can’t stand the thought of you doing it alone.”
“It’ll be hard for you,” Frankie warned her. After all, the female’s brother had died there.
“I didn’t see anything that night. They didn’t even let me near the cabin. The only memories I have of that place are good ones.”
Frankie sighed. “All right. Clara, will you be okay here?”
“Of course,” replied Clara with a wave of her hand. “Take whatever time you need. For what it’s worth, I think this will be a good thing for you. I’ll let Roni and Marcus know where you’ll be.”
“They’ll probably follow us over there,” said Lydia. “But they won’t go inside—they’ll give you the privacy you’re due.”
With Lydia at her side, Frankie walked out of the cabin and over to her childhood home. The place looked . . . sad. Boards covered the windows, panes of wood had been hammered into place across the door, and insults had been spray painted on the walls.
Hell, even its surroundings were bleak. There were overgrown weeds everywhere. On the cabin’s right side was a dead tree that was somehow still standing. On its left was a pond that had long ago dried up.
A lone crow was perched on the rotted porch rail; it watched them as they clambered up the steps. The twigs and leaves littering the porch crunched under their feet as they crossed to the front door. Frankie and Lydia grunted and cursed as they worked to pull off the planks that obstructed the door. They probably would have had a harder time doing it if the wood hadn’t gone soft with rain and rot.
Once the boards were gone, Frankie let out a long breath. The door had no knob, so she shoved it open with her elbow. The moment she stepped inside, she grimaced. The chilly air was stale and clouded with dust and smelled faintly of cigarette smoke and pot. Wrappers, empty bottles, beer cans, and cigarette butts were scattered around the floor.
Lydia sighed in disgust. “Looks like kids have hung out here over the years. I’m really hoping they didn’t also use it as a make-out spot.”
“That would be morbid, considering two people died here.”
Their footsteps echoed as they walked over creaky boards, overriding the sound of the wind whistling through broken windows. The cabin was empty of furniture. No pictures or paintings hung on the walls. The only items that had been left behind were light fixtures covered in cobwebs. Aside from the black splotches and graffiti on the walls, there was no hint of color. She could almost think that no one had ever lived there. It was a husk of a house, really.
“I expected to see some abandoned furniture.”
“The cabin was stripped of all its belongings,” said Lydia. “I think my mom and dad were worried that someone would set the place alight and everything would be destroyed. Emotions were running very high back then.”
Silence fell between them as Frankie explored the downstairs space. “I didn’t expect to have any flashbacks or sensory memories, but it’s kind of gloomy that I can walk through my childhood home and find no comfort in it at all. Every inch of it feels unfamiliar to me.”
They entered another bare room, and Lydia said, “This was, um, the kitchen. This was where it happened.” She cleared her throat. “At first people panicked and thought that someone had taken you.”
Frankie felt her brows snap together. “Why?”
“The people who first arrived at the scene called out your name, but you didn’t answer. They followed your scent down to the basement. You were hiding there, ghost white and shaking.”
“Really?” Frankie walked around, looking for another door, and . . . There. It was hanging on its hinges, so she carefully pushed it open, grimacing as it left the chalky feel of dust on her hands. At first the space looked like a large cupboard. But then she saw that there was another door. Frankie opened it, satisfied to find that it led to the basement.
Lydia made a pained sound in the back of her throat. “Frankie, don’t do this to yourself.”
“I’m not trying to torment myself. I can’t explain it well, but I just need to do it.”
Lydia flapped her arms. “All right.”
The wooden steps groaned as they descended into the basement. Frankie’s nose wrinkled. It didn’t smell any better down there. Must, mold, and damp concrete. Even with the sunlight lancing through the wide window, it was as dark as it was cold, so it was a damn good thing that shifters could see well in the dark.
Her shoes scraped on the concrete floor as she explored the large basement. No boxes were stacked anywhere. Nothing stood on the shelves. The storage cupboard was completely bare. Aside from cobwebs and damp spots, the only things to see were the breaker box, a furnace, a water tank, and pipes.
“Well, I think it’s safe to say that none of the kids who broke into the cabin over the years ever came down here.” There was no litter or graffiti.
“Can’t say I blame them.” Lydia shuddered. “Basements are creepy.”
“Where was I hiding that night?”
Turning, Lydia pointed to the far corner. “You were huddled behind the dryer, which they used to keep over there.”
The idea of that made Frankie swallow hard. She had to have seen something. A child didn’t hide in a spooky basement unless they were running from something much, much scarier.
Lydia rubbed at her upper arms. “Can we go now? I really do hate basements.”
“Yeah.” Frankie sighed. “We can head back.”
“Good, because I’m about to freak out. Let’s talk about something cheery.”
“Okay. Did Jaime tell you that she passed out on girls’ night?” The memory made Frankie’s mouth twitch despite her sour mood.
“No, she didn’t. She did tell me about Trick’s ex-fling, Rio. You stabbed his hand, right?”
“Wouldn’t you have done the same if Cam’s ex insisted he wasn’t your true mate?”
Lydia blinked, mouth falling open. “Rio said that? I thought he was just giving you grief out of spite.”
“He did a little of that too. The way he sees it, I can’t possibly be what Trick needs, since Rio is convinced that Trick is gay. Apparently he’d also hoped that Trick would one day treat him as more than a fling. He hates that I ended his hopes.”
“Seeing you and Trick together will have made him face that Trick isn’t gay, which means he also had to face that you’re able to give Trick something he can’t ever give him—not unless he’s interested in a sex change, anyway.”
Frankie stumbled to a halt as it hit her. Like a slap across the face. All this time, she hadn’t seen it. Not even once.
“What?” asked Lydia.
“You’re right. He probably hates me. He had it in his head, despite what the facts suggested, that he’d have Trick one day. Because of me, it’ll never happen. But he also truly believes that Trick is gay. In Rio’s head, I somehow duped Trick. I’m the bad guy.” And just the same way, her mother had been the bad guy, she now realized.