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There were many websites and blogs about shifters, which was how she’d learned so many things about her kind that she wouldn’t have otherwise known. The information had helped her understand her wolf and identify herself as a dominant female. Hopefully, there would also be information to help her understand what happened the night her parents died.

Bringing up the Internet, she typed in “Caroline Newman murder.” Several results popped up, most of which appeared to be articles. She clicked on the first result, which took her to a blog that catalogued crimes committed by shifters. Leaning forward, she read it.

Caroline Newman, a 25-year-old human ex-schoolteacher, was attacked and killed by her mate and wolf shifter, Christopher Brooks, on Bjorn Pack territory in California in May 1993. Brooks stabbed her eleven times in the chest with a Japanese chef knife on their kitchen floor before strangling her to death. Brooks, 30, later shot himself in the temple. The noise alerted pack mates, who raced to the scene. The only witness to the murder was their three-year-old daughter, Francesca, who was too traumatized to provide a statement.

A photo accompanied the article, of Frankie being huddled into her grandparents’ car mere days after the murder.

Below that was a picture of Caroline and Christopher together, happy and smiling like loons. Frankie studied him, took in each of his facial features. She had his eyes, she thought. Had the same slight dent in her chin and the same dimples when she smiled. She wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

Frankie went on to read other articles. There were pictures of her mother in each one—a graduation photo, a picture of her on vacation, and a family shot of Caroline with her parents. There was even one of Caroline and Frankie together.

There was nothing but speculation about what had happened. Some stated that “sources” claimed Christopher had killed Caroline in a jealous rage. Others stated that he’d been out of his mind on a drug that shifters had produced but denied existed. There were those who believed that he’d been mentally ill and suicidal, and he’d only killed Caroline because he’d wanted them to die together.

Some bloggers expressed surprise that a shifter would hurt his mate, while others felt it was only to be expected, considering that “shifters are a few evolutionary steps away from animals.”

Members of the Bjorn Pack had refused to comment. Marcia was quoted several times in various articles, defaming shifters and bad-mouthing the Bjorn Pack. One particular quote was included in several articles: “My daughter was a beautiful person, inside and out. Christopher Brooks took her from us and robbed her of her life—stabbed her, strangled her, and then shot himself like a coward. He robbed their daughter of a mother. He was evil, pure and simple.”

Rubbing her nape, Frankie sank back into her seat. She’d hoped for answers, but now she had yet more questions.

Was it true that Christopher had taken drugs?

Was it possible that he had in fact been mentally unbalanced?

Why had he killed her mother?

And . . . why hadn’t he killed Frankie too?

Wanting to know more about his pack, she punched “the Bjorn Pack California” into the search engine. Again there were plenty of results. Finding a site that seemed dedicated to recording information on wolf packs, she clicked on the link. There was only a brief history of the pack, which was hardly surprising since shifters were highly private and insular. Her mother’s murder was briefly mentioned in connection with the pack. However, the writer of the article seemed more interested in an event that later led the pack to divide.

Allegedly the original Alpha, Rick Coleman, lost a duel to his teenage son, Trey. Instead of stepping aside to allow the teen to rule, Rick banished him. Many supported the banishment. Those who didn’t support it then left with Trey, grouping together to form the Phoenix Pack.

Frankie clicked on the hyperlink that would take her to a page on the Phoenix Pack and found herself intrigued by what she read . . .

Battled with the Bjorn Pack after Trey’s father died and the Beta took the position of Alpha.

Clashed with anti-shifter extremists several times.

Defended a shelter for lone shifters against a pack Alpha.

Suspected to be related to the disappearances of local mobsters.

Frankie wondered if Lydia had been one of the wolves to leave with Trey or if she’d stayed with the Bjorn Pack. Squinting, Frankie looked more closely at the pictures of Phoenix Pack members as they stood outside stores or diners—all had been taken from afar and most likely without the pack’s knowledge. She didn’t see any females who resembled Christopher, but that didn’t really answer the question of whether Lydia was part of the pack.

Hell, nothing Frankie had read really answered any of her questions. Reading what her mother had endured . . . that had been hard. She hated that her mother’s life had been snuffed out. Hated that she’d suffered such pain before she died.

Frankie should also hate Christopher, shouldn’t she? She should despise this person who’d killed her mother and himself right in front of her. But she didn’t. Maybe because none of it seemed real. Maybe because she wasn’t sure how to hate someone she didn’t remember. Maybe because she just couldn’t make sense of it. From everything she knew about shifters, they were loyal, devoted, caring mates who were often irrationally overprotective.

The pieces of the story just didn’t fit. But then, she didn’t know enough about Christopher to really make any assessment about whether he was the sort of person who’d harm someone he loved. She needed to talk to people who had known him.

There would be no point in going back to her grandparents with her queries—they’d either tell her to drop it or feed her more lies. Frankie wanted facts. Even if they told her the truth, their answers would be colored by their own hatred of Christopher. Not that she was likely to get the truth from the wolves. It was highly possible that Lydia’s answers would be colored by her love for Christopher, but there was really no way of knowing without giving the woman a chance. She’d offered to answer Frankie’s questions, hadn’t she? Maybe she’d be honest, maybe she wouldn’t. And, okay, maybe Frankie was curious about her.

Downing the last of her wine, she switched off her laptop and once again stared at the framed photo of Caroline on her mantel. She wondered if her mother would be upset with Frankie for seeking answers—hell, Marcia and Geoffrey would, and they’d no doubt see her meeting with Lydia as a betrayal. But Frankie didn’t view it as a betrayal. In her opinion it was perfectly natural that she’d want some answers and to know about her past.

This was her life; she was entitled to know every part of it. And if her maternal family couldn’t accept that, well, it wouldn’t be the first time that they’d disapproved of her choices. Still, she didn’t relish the idea of going head-to-head with the people who’d raised her. Loved her.

But they never really accepted you, a little voice in her head whispered.

Frankie couldn’t argue with it. And then another voice was playing in her head—a voice that wasn’t her own.

“You will not meet with those wolves, Francesca. I forbid it.”

Frankie scowled at Marcia’s words. Forbid it, huh? That was so the wrong thing to say to a dominant female wolf.

CHAPTER THREE

Sitting in the coffeehouse, Trick set down his half-empty mug. Around him were the murmur of voices, the clattering of dishes, the whir of blenders, and the ding of the cash register. The place was nice. Cozy. It was also busy as hell.

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