stuff

Mari dragged straight brown strands from her face to tame them into a ponytail just as a knock sounded against the bedroom door and Allison stuck her head in with a warm smile on her face.

“Mari, you’re going to make Raoul think you snuck back out to the ocean.”

It wasn’t a far-fetched idea, but she missed her friends. She could tolerate being the center of attention for a few hours to spend time with everyone again. She smiled at Allison.

“You’d think he invited the mayor or something the way he’s carrying on.”

Allison laughed, picking up Mari’s sandals and setting them before her. “Didn’t he tell you?”

“He did not invite Mayor Iago. Please. Doesn’t he have any restraint?”

“When it comes to his precious Mari? Definitely not. And of course he invited Iago.”

Since Raoul and Iago had been friends for years, it wasn’t all that surprising. Still, she made a note to tease him as she hugged Allison. Because she knew Raoul and his hesitance to share anything that wasn’t good, she took the opportunity to get information from her.

“How are things really, Ally? Since I’ve been gone?”

Allison’s smile softened as she brushed a wisp of hair from Mari’s forehead. “You worry about him nearly as much as he does about you. Things are good. He cut down on the number of tours he does. Todd comes out and does a few for us sometimes and he’s hired another guide.  Business is still good. He’s missed you of course. I don’t think he has as much of a heart for it when his favorite guide isn’t with him. Having you home will be good for him.”

Mari thought that over as they descended the stairs, arms looped around each other. The words assured her that what she read on Raoul’s face was truth. He was still healthy and happy.

A soft breeze blew music, chatter, and laughter into the house through the open back door. The homecoming celebration was well underway.

“Everything’s fine. Now go enjoy.”

Allison pulled her arm back and nudged her forward but before she could step outside, she was swept up into strong arms. Todd lifted her clean off her feet and spun her around before drawing her close.

“The little runaway has found her way back home.”

Pearly white teeth flashed at her from his wide grin. She ran her fingers over spiked black hair. He was built like Raoul, lean but strong. There was inner strength too though; strength she’d counted on more than once.

“Tell me why I thought I missed you?” she challenged even as she hugged him tightly. “That mouth of yours is still too smart for your own good.”

“It has to keep up with my brain.” He pulled back to give her a thorough appraisal and a frown stole over his face. “You’ve lost weight.”

“I’ll put the lost weight and more back on being here with Papa and Allison. Don’t worry.”

“Mari!”

She didn’t have to turn to know the footsteps racing across the deck to the house belonged to Rylee Phillips. She turned just in time to meet the flying tackle hug. Laughter and air were forced out of her as she stumbled back, embracing the hug. Rylee was shorter and smaller but her grip around Mari’s waist didn’t show it.

Looking over her head she saw Julia Malloy standing just inside the door with her trademark smirk that was just an inch wider than usual.

And there, in that moment, Mari was complete.

 <<Chapter 1 || Chapter 3>>

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