“Christopher wouldn’t have wanted this,” Lydia said, shaking her head sadly.
“But he’ll forgive it,” said Cruz. “He loved me, like I loved him.”
Frankie snickered, an angry flush marking her cheeks. “You can stop with this bullshit about how much you loved Christopher. You killed him, and then you framed him for my mother’s murder.”
His eyes hardened. “I wouldn’t have had to if Caroline had just left like she was supposed to,” he snapped, defensive. “She didn’t care that she was making him live a lie. Didn’t care that he wouldn’t have been happy with her in the long run.” He shook his head madly. “She fooled him into thinking they were true mates. But I knew that wasn’t true. I told her that. I tried to reason with her, tried to make her see that she didn’t belong here, just like her parents and her brother did. She said I was crazy and that Christopher would never be mine. Before I even thought about it, I’d pulled out the gun.”
As Frankie looked down the barrel of this gun, muscles tight with fear, she had a pretty good idea of how Caroline had felt.
“Oh, she changed her tune then,” he went on with a chuckle. “Promised she’d leave and take you with her if I’d just put the gun down. I believed her. I was going to lower it. But then she dived at me with that damn knife, knocking the gun out of my hand. The next thing I knew, I was stabbing her in the chest with her own knife. But she was making too much noise, so I had to shut the bitch up.”
Frankie’s chest went tight as she pictured it—her mother bleeding, struggling, gasping for breath, scared out of her mind as big hands squeezed her throat. Frankie wanted to kill this motherfucker so bad. “Why kill him? Why?”
“He must have felt her pain through their bond, because he barged inside. She was dead by then, and he was weaving all over the place—the breaking of the mating bond hit him so hard, he could barely walk, let alone think straight. I talked to him, told him that her death was for the best, but it was like he couldn’t even see me. He just kept sobbing her name, begging her to wake up. He thought he could save her. Pulled the knife out of her chest and tried CP fucking R.”
And in doing so, thought Frankie, he’d gotten Caroline’s blood all over him.
“Then he seemed to snap out of it. He twisted and grabbed the gun I’d dropped on the floor. I knew he’d shoot me. He wasn’t thinking straight, you see. I came up behind him and gripped the hand holding the gun. I tried wrestling it from him. He might have overpowered me if he wasn’t weak and disoriented from the breaking of the bond.
“He wasn’t supposed to die. You hear me? He wasn’t. I just twisted his hand so that he was pointing the gun at his own temple. I did it to get his attention. To make him stop, think, and listen. To make him realize that he didn’t want to hurt me. But he kept on struggling and . . . it just went off. And then he was dead.”
Lydia whimpered, and Frankie risked a quick glance at her. The female’s body was trembling, and her breathing was quick and shallow. God, they needed to get out of there. Frankie’s muscles twitched with the need to act—to fight, run, hide, lunge, anything.
An ominous groan of wood made her stomach churn. The cabin shuddered, and dust sifted down through the cracks in the wooden beams of the ceiling, hitting her face and creeping down her collar. She couldn’t even bat at it. If she moved her hands, he’d fire.
The building was becoming more and more unstable by the minute. Every now and then she’d hear something twist, crack, or splinter. It was going to collapse, and then they’d all be trapped down there—that was, if they weren’t immediately killed by the impact.
There were other noises too. She could hear people outside—running around, shouting, and hopefully doing fucking something. Wanting to keep Cruz distracted, she said, “And you were heartbroken by Christopher’s death. So damn heartbroken that you confessed to the crimes. Oh no, wait, you blamed it all on him.” She ignored his growl. “Why didn’t you kill me too?”
“I would have,” he said. “I didn’t realize you were there at first. But then I turned and found you standing in the doorway. I wasn’t sure how much you’d seen, so I told you that your daddy killed her and himself and that I was here to get help. But then you ran, and I knew you’d seen something. People crashed inside—they’d heard the gunshot. I didn’t have time to go after you.” He tilted his head. “I don’t know why you never said my name and told people what you saw. Maybe your little mind just wanted to block it out. Maybe you didn’t know which of the triplets I was.”
Maybe she’d been experiencing the same choking, incapacitating, logic-stealing fear that was riding her now. It wasn’t just fear for herself and Lydia, it was fear for Trick. Frankie took a deep, controlled breath. God, she needed to think, plan, and—
Frankie heard the scrape of wood and a muffled curse. Someone was trying to clear the mess blocking the door, she thought. Hope briefly sparked in her belly . . . until she realized that Cruz had heard it too.
He roared. “If anyone tries to come in here to save these bitches, I’ll shoot their fucking faces off!”
More dust slipped through the cracks in the ceiling and poured down on them. Squinting, he coughed, putting a fist to his mouth, lowering his hand for just a moment. It was the opening Frankie needed. She leaped at him and reached for the gun.
Flattening his ears, the wolf sprang at “Morelli.” With a renewed vigor, he slashed and bit as he fought. By now blood matted his fur, just as dirt muddied it. His rake wounds burned. His ravaged ear stung. His ribs—still sore from the crash—hurt with each heave of his chest.
Pain and blood loss were slowing him down. He didn’t care. His opponent would die. He would howl in agony. He would—
Something thudded into the wolf’s stomach. No. His mate’s stomach. An echo of her pain rippled through him. The wolf’s heart jumped. Panicked, he froze. His opponent took advantage and slammed into him. The wolf crashed to the ground, vulnerable, and—
Howls rang through the air, and then a number of wolves were running down the sloped walls. Not his pack mates, the wolf quickly realized. Their allies.
His enemy fled, taking him by surprise. The wolf jumped to his feet and pursued him, who scrambled over piles of rubble, kicking up dust. The wolf sneezed and growled, eyes itchy with the dust. He didn’t let it stop him.
He kept chasing his opponent. Wove through the construction cones. Ducked under the ropes. Leaped over wooden pallets. Hopped over wires. Almost crashed into scaffolding.
Pebbles and gravel dug into his paws. He ignored the pain and the wooziness. Kept running and running. His enemy slipped on a loose piece of shale, lost his footing. That was all the wolf needed. He lunged, maneuvered the other wolf onto his back, and—
Jaws clamped around the wolf’s leg and heaved him aside, allowing his opponent to leap to his feet and race away. Growling, the wolf spun and tackled the interferer onto his back. He delivered the killing bite, tasted blood. Dark satisfaction would have filled the wolf, but panic for his mate was still riding him.
He backed off the corpse, breaths sawing in and out of his heaving chest. He glanced around, searching for “Morelli.” Most of the other enemies had been taken down. He shook his fur, ridding himself of dust and dirt.