Chasing Truth: Chapter 49

Posted on 26/06/2020

Calories in a Glass of Wine

Mari was practically coming out of her seat by the time she and Reese arrived at Julia’s place. She dreaded dancing around the truth with her best friends, but she was excited to be able to bring them in at least a little. She needed their insight.

Her leg bounced restlessly while she waited for Reese to open her door. She hopped down the second he did and just barely restrained herself to keep pace with him. They were walking up the pathway when the door swung open to reveal Leilani. She didn’t come out.

“I knew it was you. I checked out the window and again out the peephole,” she rushed to say since she knew she wasn’t supposed to open the door until Reese was actually at said door.

Reese shook his head. Mari just grinned. Leilani latched onto her arm the moment she was within reach. 

“You can have the living room, Reese. We’re not going to watch TV and this way you’re between us and the door,” Leilani continued as Reese closed the door. “We’ll be in the kitchen.”

“Is anything that comes out of the kitchen going to be edible?” he called after them teasingly.

Leilani turned to stick her tongue out at him but didn’t stop herding Mari to the kitchen. Julia stood at the stove, frying fish when they entered. Leilani let go of Mari to retrieve a wine glass, which she filled generously.

“Okay, spill,” Leilani prompted and handed Mari the glass.

Mari laughed, settling onto the nearest stool and taking a sip. “Well, at least I got wine first.” Leilani’s mock glare made her laugh. “It’s nothing that extreme. Really. Things with Tyler have been…off lately. I don’t really know how to explain it. Things don’t feel the same anymore.”

“Feel the same like how?” Leilani pressed. “Like you  don’t feel the same way about him as you used to or the relationship feels different?”

“I…both? The relationship feels different, distant almost. I think that’s affecting how I feel.”

Julia cut straight to the heart of the matter. “You’re having second thoughts.”

Mari dropped her head to stare into her wine. “Yeah. Maybe it’s just me and I’m imagining things being different, but…” She hated lying to her friends, but this was the closest to the truth she could get. She lifted her gaze. “I was kinda hoping you two could pay attention when he comes back. You know, tell me if I’m just being crazy.”

“I’ve never known you to just be crazy,” Julia said as she laid fish onto a plate.

Leilani glanced toward the doorway before leaning forward. “How much of this maybe has to do with you spending all of this time with Reese?” she whispered.

“I don’t know,” Mari groaned. “That’s part of the whole problem. At first, everything seemed simple. Things with Tyler were great. They changed some even before I met Reese, but when he showed up, things got even more complicated. I wasn’t expecting to interact with him at all. And then when he stayed, I wasn’t expecting to actually enjoy talking to him or anything. I was just planning to put up with him so Blake wouldn’t hassle me.”

“But now it’s more?” It was a statement from Julia, not a question.

Mari opened her mouth to deny it, but there was no point. Julia and Leilani knew her too well. 

“You two have gotten close over the last couple of weeks,” Julia continued. “Nothing that crosses the line, but he fits. You two fit in a way Tyler never did.”

“My life is out of control,” Mari whispered as she buried her face in her hands.

“So take back some control,” Leilani suggested. “End it with Tyler.”

“I can’t just end a relationship with a guy I’ve been seeing for months just because I think another guy is attractive. Reese doesn’t even live here. This wouldn’t even be a discussion if he and I weren’t attached at the hip these last few weeks. He’ll go home and this…this will wear off.”

“You don’t believe that, do you?” Leilani chided softly. “Maybe the closeness got you here faster, but it’s not just going to go away. It’s not like you’ll never see him again. If nothing else, he’d be back whenever your dad visits and there whenever you visit him.”

Mari waved off her words. “He doesn’t even like me that way. He’s here doing a job. That’s it.”

Julia snorted while Leilani rolled her eyes. 

“Oh, please. He totally likes you.”

Julia checked the doorway before approaching the island. “There are things he does because he’s here to keep you safe, but there are things he does that don’t fall into that. He almost always brings you your food, even when we’re just in the house. When he calls you Ellie, it’s not because he’s trying to come off as a close friend. He caters to you in ways that have nothing to do with protecting you.”

“We were talking about Tyler,” Mari protested weakly.

“And now we’re talking about Reese,” Leilani returned without hesitation. “Allie really likes him. She told mom Raoul does too and that you guys had a great time camping.”

“They like him because he’s keeping me safe and they know that,” she pointed out.

“Mari, stop being deliberately blind. He would have been perfectly capable of coming here and pretending to be a friend without ever getting as close to you and people that matter to you as he has. We’ll pay attention when Tyler comes back. You know all you had to do was ask. You’re not going to be able to sort out things with Tyler if you can’t be honest with yourself about what’s happening between you and Reese though. Start there.”

Wisdom imparted, Julia turned back to the stove to finish preparing dinner. Even Leilani found nothing else to add.

Be honest about what was happening between her and Reese? Now that the girls laid it out, it was harder to ignore. It had already been hard enough to dismiss before today. 

Mari drained the rest of her glass. It was going to be a long night.


<< Chapter 48

Chasing Truth: Chapter 48

Posted on 12/06/2020

Spy shop' surveillance gear cheaper than ever, but you get what ...

Mari’s life was a mess. Her boyfriend was using her to spy on her biological father. Her bodyguard was upset with her. Her surrogate dad was annoyed she kept the truth from him. Her biological father was more than likely wary of her now. Her friends were completely in the dark about everything happening. All of that and she was still no closer to discovering what kind of life Blake led. She blew out a harsh breath as she slouched down on the couch in Raoul’s living room. Her phone chimed twice, drawing her attention to the group chat she had with Julia and Leilani.

Leilani’s text was first. What r u & Reese up to 2nite? Let’s do something fun. 

Beach tonight? Or Joe’s? Julia’s response was immediate.

Mari looked up from her phone when she heard the front door open. Moments later, Reese came into view. The tight line of his jaw wasn’t reassuring given he left earlier to check her place for bugs.

“You found something,” she guessed while setting her phone to the side.

“Anything sensitive or not public knowledge is only discussed here. That includes any of your conversations with Blake. You’ll continue to take calls from him there, but never discuss anything of consequence. You need to keep your conversations normal. Are we clear?”

Mari anxiously thought back on all the things she said at home. What did Tyler know that she hadn’t actually told him?

“Mari?” Reese prompted sharply.

“You don’t need to snap. I’m not the one who missed the bugs.”

She almost missed his wince. His eyes skittered away from her. “I had to work hard to find them, harder than anyone would in a standard check. Tyler is…advanced.”

Mari tugged at her ear. She tried to ignore the guilt creeping in. He had missed the bugs, but his clear shame over it made her feel awful for pointing it out. Shame wasn’t a look she ever saw on him, wasn’t something she thought she would ever associate with him. It made him more human even as it freaked her out about Tyler. How good did he have to be to get bugs past Reese?

“We’re clear,” she murmured in answer to his earlier question. It wouldn’t be hard. She was unlikely to ever forget Tyler was listening in. “I was just trying to think of anything he might know because he had my place bugged.”

“Did you come up with anything?”

She hesitated, but she shook her head. “Not that I can think of. I’ve been pretty careful about saying anything to anyone, but I’ll let you know if anything comes to mind.”

He nodded. She rubbed at her arms. Knowing Tyler bugged her place left her unsettled. He preached trust to her, yet he didn’t trust her enough not to listen in on her conversations. The complete violation of her privacy only made it harder to move past. She squeezed, moving her thoughts from Tyler’s underhanded methods.

“Jules and Leilani texted,” she told Reese when he said nothing else. “They want to hang out…I need to tell them the truth.”

“No.”

She blinked at the whip in his voice. “Reese, I grew up with them. They know me. They’re going to be able to tell something is off with me.”

“If you can’t move forward like normal, then we’ll call this off now. I’ll take you to Blake and we’ll figure out the rest.”

The firmness of his words left her stunned before frustration started to bubble up. “I’m not saying I can’t pretend with Tyler. I’m telling you two women who’ve known me my whole life will probably get a clue that something is off. If we tell them what’s going on, they can help with Tyler.”

“Julia has never liked Tyler. Leilani would struggle to keep a secret, let alone act like everything is normal.”

“My point exactly! Well, not about Lani. Jules being her skeptical and critical self wouldn’t concern Tyler. Neither would her watching him. Lani is friendly and she likes Tyler. He wouldn’t think twice about her being around either. They can help.”

“This is not a negotiation.”

She stared up at him as it dawned on her she didn’t really know this man. He joked with her, spent time with her family and friends, and even shared some of his past. She was never in true opposition to him though. She never saw the stone-faced man in front of her now. He was not a man she wanted as an enemy.

“Okay. Telling them the truth isn’t an option,” she said slowly. “They could be extra eyes on Tyler though. Your focus is on protecting me, which is great. I’m all for that. It just means you can’t be as proactive about dealing with Tyler. I could say things feel different lately. I can ask them to pay attention when he’s around, see if they notice anything different. If he does anything sketchy, they have a chance of seeing it because they’re looking for it. I won’t tell them any more than that, just that I’m having second thoughts about him and our relationship.”

He stared at her. It took sheer will not to shrink under the force of it.

“You do understand you are not in control of this situation, right?” he asked.

She bit back the bitter response on the tip of her tongue. She lost control of everything when she met Tyler. It was beginning to piss her off. Telling Reese he was just the latest dictator in her out-of-control life wouldn’t win her any points with him.

“Yes,” she said, “but I’m not wrong. Think about it, Reese.”

He sighed, dragging a hand over his head. “You tell them you’re having second thoughts about the relationship. They’ll ask why. You tell them he’s been distant lately and it’s making you rethink. That’s it. Nothing more. Understood?”

She gritted her teeth. “You don’t have to talk to me like I’m a child. I heard you just fine.”

“This isn’t a game, Marielle. The wrong decision could mean somebody gets hurt or killed. From now on, we’ll be on the exact same word of the same sentence on the same page because we can’t afford not to be. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything for you.”

“Got that loud and clear.” She grabbed her phone and rocketed to her feet. “We done?”

“There isn’t room for temper tantrums either.”

Her nostrils flared as her nails bit into her palm. “Anything else you’d like to dictate while you’re at it?”

“You kept the truth from me.” The softness of his voice was a warning, sapping some of her ire. “Time has been wasted. I’m still working to get up to speed in a way that doesn’t leave your father or you exposed. You already made my job hard. Don’t make it harder.”

Guilt and frustration were an ugly combination. “I said I was sorry.”

“That doesn’t change anything about the situation. What I need from you is for you not to work against me or let emotions get the best of you. That won’t end well for either of us.”

She sucked in a deep breath. “Okay.”

“Good. We’ll meet the girls at one of their places. I want you in a controlled environment tonight.”

“I’ll call them now,” she said as she rounded the couch to retreat to the patio. She hesitated at the door. “For what it’s worth, I really am sorry. I’m not trying to make this hard, but it’s new territory for me.”

Then before he could respond, she slipped out the door to call her friends.

<< Chapter 47                        Chapter 49 >>

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