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By unspoken mutual consent, Frankie and Greta had decided never to speak of the karaoke incident. Trick thought it occasionally amusing to hum “Greased Lightning” under his breath when she and Greta were in the same room, but Frankie didn’t find anything funny about it.

With the exception of Bracken, who was still deep in grief, the Mercury Pack had attended the ceremony. There had also been some other outsiders, such as Trick’s parents, Makenna’s coworkers, and even Abigail.

During the after-party, Frankie had asked Uma why she’d suddenly been able to push aside her anger with Trey. She’d said, “When Trick went into the basement to rescue you, I saw the same panic on Trey’s face that I knew was on mine. He shoved everyone out of the way, determined to be the one who pulled you, Trick, and Marcus out of there. How can I be angry with someone who would risk themselves for my son that way?”

Her change of behavior toward Trey hadn’t relaxed Trick. In fact, it seemed to Frankie that he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. But so far, so good.

Frankie hadn’t invited her grandparents to the ceremony, since she’d known it would be as hard for Trick as it would be for them. He was still tremendously pissed at them, and she suspected that he always would be, purely for keeping him and Frankie apart for so long.

After Brad “disappeared,” she’d gone to her grandparents’ house and played the recording of his confession. At first they’d been outraged and insisted that the voice didn’t belong to Brad. She’d expected their reaction, though, so she’d simply left. A week later, Geoffrey called and told her they’d found her mother’s ring and dress among Brad’s possessions.

They still weren’t yet ready to come to terms with Brad’s involvement in the murders, but they were no longer accusing Frankie of lying. They were also struggling to accept Christopher’s innocence. They’d spent so long hating him that they couldn’t quite shake it off. Still, they were no longer insisting that she shouldn’t have any involvement with her pack. In fact, they occasionally asked how things were going with Trick.

Frankie doubted they would ever visit pack territory or be happy that she was part of a pack, but they seemed to have lost their bitterness about it. They’d even hinted that she and Trick could one day go to their house for lunch. None of them were ready for that yet, but it was enough that they were making progress.

Geoffrey had asked if she knew what had happened to Brad, and she’d replied, “No.” Whether he believed her or not, she couldn’t be sure. But she’d never asked what had been done to Brad; she didn’t want to know, and that seemed to suit Trick just fine.

A few weeks after the ceremony, Frankie visited Christopher’s grave with Trick, who didn’t release her hand even once—as if to remind her that she wasn’t alone. And as she’d stared down at her father’s grave, a lump had formed in her throat. Not just at what he’d been through and the years with him she’d lost, but at the fact that he hadn’t even been able to be buried alongside his mate. Such a thing seemed cruel, but she doubted she’d be able to convince her grandparents to relocate Caroline’s body. That just made the whole thing even sadder.

Her nightmares had stopped, which had relieved Trick. She’d forgiven herself for not speaking up as a kid. But Marcus hadn’t yet forgiven himself for being drawn away from her on Bjorn territory that night. Roni also felt sincerely bad about it. In addition, Ally was bummed that she hadn’t foreseen the hostage situation, and she’d needlessly apologized to Frankie and Trick for it numerous times.

After screwing the cap back on her bottle, Frankie set it down. She then lifted the paintbrush and dabbed it in the white paint. She gave the fang yet another coat, keeping her hand steady and—

Arms snaked around her waist just as a familiar scent cocooned her, making her feel safe and cared for . . . and freaking annoyed. She sighed. “You said you’d just sit and sketch.”

Trick brushed his nose along her neck, inhaling her scent. “I did sit. I did sketch.”

“Well, either go do it a little longer or head back to the caves.”

“Why?” He pressed a kiss to the hollow beneath her ear. “I’m comfortable right here.”

“You can’t be this close to me while I’m trying to work.” How was she supposed to concentrate when he was eating her space, stirring up her hormones? It had been hard enough just having him in the studio. The heat from his gaze had made it difficult for her to get into the flow at first. Whenever she’d flicked him a brief look, she’d seen his hand moving fast, drawing in short, light strokes. “I mean it, Trick, you’re too distracting.”

His arms flexed around her. “Sorry, baby, I don’t want to distract you.”

She snorted. “Yes, you do.”

“Yes, I do.”

As he pressed his solid body closer to hers, she felt his cock digging into her back. “How can you be hard right now?” She was dressed in baggy overalls that were not the least bit alluring. Her hair was styled in a messy ponytail, and she was wearing zero makeup.

Trick nuzzled her. “You have no idea how hot you are when you work,” he said. His breath, warm on her neck, sent a light tremor down the length of her spine.

“Hot?”

“Hmm.” Trick scraped his teeth over her claiming mark and then laved it with a swipe of his tongue. “You’re competent and confident. Your focus is solely on what you’re doing. Seeing you like that reminds me what it’s like to be the center of that focus.” Especially of the times she sucked his cock, when she seemed totally absorbed in what was doing, devoting every bit of her attention to him—just as she had that morning. And as he’d sat there recalling each of those times, his cock had gotten harder and heavier, until he simply couldn’t take it anymore.

Trick whispered into her ear, “I want to fuck you. Right here.”

She swallowed, too easily caught up in his spell. “I’m not done.”

“It’s my birthday,” he reminded her, pulling out her hair tie. He sank his hands into the silky curls, loving the feel of them. “You’re supposed to let me have my way on my birthday.”

“I did let you have your way—hence why you were in here, sketching, in the first place.”

His mouth curved. “I want to be in my happy place.”

She would have laughed at that, but then he grabbed a fistful of her curls and snatched her head back.

His lips grazed her ear, tickling the tiny little hairs there. “I wasn’t asking to fuck you, baby,” he said, soft and low. “I am going to fuck you. This body is mine. I can have it and mark it and use it whenever and however I want.”

Frankie shivered. That calm, dominant, confident voice seemed to seep through her skin and sink into her bones. Her blood thickened. Her nipples tightened. She felt herself go damp.

“Put your hands on the bench. Don’t move them unless I tell you to. Good girl.”

Her eyes fluttered shut as he kissed, licked, and sucked at her neck. She melted into him, nipples tingling, pussy throbbing as a slow burn started deep in her core. Using his grip on her hair, he forced her head forward and then left a trail of warm, wet kisses along her sensitive nape.

Trick flicked out his tongue to trace the shell of her ear. “I can smell how much you want me.” She couldn’t have any idea just what the heady scent of her need did to him and his wolf. They both greedily inhaled it. It was better than any perfume, any flower, any other fragrance that existed. “Fucking love that smell. Almost as much as I love you.”

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