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His mouth flattened. “I’m Trick Hardy, one of Lydia’s pack mates.” And your true mate, but we’ll get to that later. “You and I used to play together as kids.”

“Huh.” No, Frankie didn’t remember him. His scent did prick at her memories, though. Black pepper, charred pinewood, and smoky leather. It was . . . reassuring, somehow. It was also making her nipples tingle—well, that was new. Her wolf stirred, intrigued by the rich scent and the darkly dominant air about him. The animal recognized his scent, thought of him as “pack.”

Frankie took a good long look at him. He was, in a word, ripped. Not in a “someone obviously loves steroids” way where he’d have to turn sideways just to fit through a door—Frankie didn’t go for that look. No, Trick Hardy was perfectly toned and spilled a raw animal energy. All that roped muscle, sleek skin, and the dips and lines of the six-pack beneath his shirt . . . Yeah, God was a seriously creative being.

Trick’s dark-ringed mocha-brown eyes were as sharp as they were warm. His short hair was the color of deep-brown leather, but it wasn’t so short that a girl couldn’t get a firm grip on it. The angles of his face were hard and rough, and they gave him a dangerous look that was accentuated by the claw marks that scarred one side of his face. The black, tribal, warriorlike tattoo sleeve on his left arm only added to his badass image.

Basically he was a broad-shouldered tower of supreme masculinity that a girl could very happily feast on.

He was also a little unnerving. Not much ruffled Frankie, but something about the way he looked at her . . . it flustered her. Put her on edge. There was a determination there she didn’t understand. A need that was fierce and wild and called to something inside her. Something that made her blood heat, her breasts ache, and her clit tingle.

What the fuck was that all about?

Frankie didn’t ever have such elemental reactions to guys. Hell, it usually took a little foreplay to wrench those kinds of responses from her body. But just the sight and scent of this male had her system almost . . . readying itself for him. It had to be a shifter thing—like calling to like or something. Hopefully he wasn’t much of a talker, because his lazy drawl played across her nerve endings, and that would not help cool her blood at all.

Frankie flicked a glance at the coffeehouse. “I take it Lydia’s inside?”

“She is.” He opened the door and gestured for her to enter first.

With a nod of thanks, Frankie did so. It was a busy place; most of the bistro tables were taken, and there was a hell of a queue. A hand landed on her back, and she almost jumped. Then Trick’s mouth was at her ear.

“Lydia’s waiting in the corner, near the window.” Keeping his hand on her back, Trick led her to the table. The scents of coffee, spices, and baked goods didn’t override Francesca’s tantalizing scent—it was like it had embedded itself in his lungs. His wolf wanted to roll around in it like a pup and wear it on his fur.

As they approached, Lydia rose and rubbed her palms on her thighs. Her smile was small but genuine. “Francesca, hi. I’m Lydia. This is my mate, Cam. And these are two of our pack mates, Ryan and Trick.”

Frankie gave a short nod of greeting, feeling awkward and a little dubious. Not because she was intimidated, though Trick and Ryan sure had that dauntless air going on. Lydia and the baby-faced Cam weren’t in the least bit threatening, but the way they looked at her with such familiarity . . . Yeah, it was just awkward.

“Please sit down,” invited Lydia.

Trick pulled out a chair for Francesca, and, flicking him a quick glance, she took it. He sank into the chair beside hers. When he’d first arrived, his concern had been for Lydia. He’d been prepared to step in if Francesca decided to dish out any attitude. Now Francesca’s feelings were his primary concern. His protective streak was a live wire around her, and his pack mates now took a back seat. Funny how one little person could shift his priorities so quickly.

The situation shouldn’t have felt strange for him, but it did. He’d been so ready and eager to find his true mate that he’d always figured he’d take it in his stride—that he’d just accept she was his and act on it. But Trick found himself . . . off balance. A little staggered. Like he’d been hit by a two-by-four. His mate was right there in front of him, close enough to touch. The moment seemed surreal.

“You want coffee or anything?” Trick asked her, but she gave a quick shake of her head without even looking his way. Trick’s wolf growled, wanting her attention.

Lydia smiled. “You look really good, Francesca.”

“Frankie,” she offered.

“Your dad used to call you Frankie.” Lydia winced, as if thinking it wasn’t such a great idea to mention him.

Uncomfortable with the affection lighting Lydia’s eyes, Frankie decided to be straight with her. “I don’t remember you.”

Lydia’s smile shrank a little. “I didn’t think you would.”

Frankie skimmed her eyes over each of them as she said, “I don’t remember any of you. Your scents are a little familiar, but that’s all.”

Just like that, Lydia’s smile was back. “That’s more than I’d hoped for.” She licked her lower lip. “I got the impression from your e-mail that you didn’t know about me.”

“I didn’t know about any of you. I was told that my father was a lone shifter and that I’d never met anyone from his pack, that they didn’t wish to know him or me.”

Trick ground his teeth against the urge to curse. The idea that she’d grown up believing none of them wanted her pissed him the fuck off. His wolf pushed closer to Trick’s skin, wanting to be near her, urging Trick to reach out and touch her. Trick didn’t move, but he kept his gaze on her. He couldn’t not look at her.

“I can see why your grandparents would rather you believed something like that,” said Lydia, though it was clear that she wasn’t at all happy about it. “Well, Christopher was no lone shifter. We all once belonged to the Bjorn Pack. It later split, and a bunch of us left to form the Phoenix Pack.”

Well, that answered the question of which pack Lydia belonged to, Frankie thought. She decided not to mention that she’d done some research. She also decided to ignore that Trick was staring at her, his gaze focused and unblinking like that of a predator.

“He met your mother at a karaoke bar,” Lydia continued. “She was with some friends. He said he fell hard at just the sound of her voice. They didn’t realize they were true mates straightaway. I have lots of pictures of them together, but I didn’t bring them with me—I didn’t want to overwhelm you. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting you to come. I was just hoping like crazy that you would.”

“Why the sudden interest in me?” Frankie asked. “I can understand why your mother would want to say her goodbyes before she passes, but I don’t get why you yourself seem so interested. You’ve been out of my life for a very long time.”

“Not by choice,” Lydia firmly stated. “We tried to have contact with you. Tried long and hard. Your grandparents wanted us out of your life, and they made it happen.”

Frankie wished she could deny that they’d do such a thing, but of course they would have done it. She’d seen how much they hated Christopher, and they weren’t the type of people who compromised. “You could have come to me when I was old enough to decide for myself if I wanted to see you.”

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