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The wind whistled around her as Mari pushed through the wrought-iron gate. She slipped her thumbs through the loops of her jeans as she wound her way through the unofficial and uneven paths barely lit by the slowly rising sun. Her feet didn’t falter. The trek was embedded in her very heels.

She didn’t stop until she reached the top of a small hill overlooking the ocean. She stopped there, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply as the wind played with her hair. A faint smile touched her lips when she turned around.

“Hey Mom. You’ve got a view today. It feels great up here.” She laughed softly and sank down into the grass. “You should’ve seen the ‘little gathering’ Raoul threw together. Iago was there. You remember he’s mayor now. I think the whole island was there. I’m pretty sure I danced with everyone too. You would’ve loved it.”

“I got back into touring yesterday. My aches have aches but it was worth it. We had a pretty good group so no one too obnoxious. Joe’s coconut shrimp is still beyond words of course. Jules is still snarky and Rylee’s still Rylee. It’s been a whirlwind since I’ve been back.”

She sighed and looked over at the marble headstone.

Miranda Drake. The gift of her life and love live on.

Sometimes she could still see it when she closed her eyes; the thick black fog choking out clean air, flames licking at the quaint place she’d always known as home. The fire had eaten the house faster than anything she ever witnessed in her seven years of life. The beach became the only place she felt safe. Raoul woke many nights only to find her in or seated just within reach of the waves.

“It’s good to be back. It really is. I just…sometimes I guess I feel like there’s something…more. Something missing. I just don’t know what. I didn’t find it at school either. Whatever it is.” She sighed and stretched out onto her back to stare up at the sky. “I thought getting away might tell me something I didn’t know. It was probably good to get away too. Papa and Ally needed time to do their whole married thing and I needed to learn how to not be his shadow.” She smiled to herself. “She’s good to him, Mom. You’d love her.”

“I missed this pretty much the entire time I was gone though. Did you? Was he amazing enough to make up for it? Or did it suck and he was just worth it?”

She restlessly rolled over onto her stomach. “I wonder about him every now and then. My father. You know, the guy you loved enough to run away with. Not often but enough. It just would’ve been nice to know who he was at least. Not that it matters if he doesn’t want me. I’ve got Papa and Allison. That should be enough. That is enough. I’m just curious, which he says I got from you so you can’t blame me.”

Only a few details had been shared about Mari’s father. She knew that her mother had left the island with him before she was born and that she’d returned several years later with a four year old Mari in tow. She liked to think that meant she’d at least known him at some point. Then again that meant he knew she existed and didn’t care.

She sighed, tugging herself up into a sitting position. She didn’t start at the sound of someone coming up the hill behind her.

“Hey Papa.”

“You got out here pretty early.” He came to sit beside her, his eyes fixed on his sister’s grave.

“Today’s busy and I haven’t had a chance to get up here yet.”

He nodded as he drew his legs up and rested his arms around his knees. After a moment he angled his head to look at her.

“Thinking about your father?”

“Sometimes I just wish I knew who he was. Just to know. You know I hate mysteries.”

He chuckled softly. “Sometimes it’s best for some things to remain unknown. The greatest mystery is one that remains unsolved.”

“She loved him. Whatever else was true about him, she loved him. Even I know how much Mom loved this place but she left it for him. That has to count for something, doesn’t it?”

“But she also came back,” he reminded her gently. “And that counts for something too.”

“That’s probably true. Sometimes I just want to know for myself, I guess.”

“Have you started looking for him?”

She heard the catch in his voice despite his attempt to be casual. Scooting closer, she rested her head against his shoulder. “No, Papa. I haven’t and I probably never will. Things get so busy around here and it’s not like I really have a place to start. It’s not a big deal. I just wonder from time to time.”

“You’ll let me know if you change your mind.”

“You’ll be the first.”

That seemed to settle him and he dipped his head to kiss her forehead. “You’ve got more tours lined up today.”

“I wanted a chance to work with the new guy. He has one for this morning so I’ll tag along. I’ll take two out on my own later and join Todd at two.”

“I won’t even bother asking you if you’re ready. We’ll do a tour together next week if you can make the time.”

Her head shot up. “Camping?”

“Hiking at least.”

“You really know the way to a woman’s heart. I see now how you managed to snag Ally.”

He laughed and swatted at her. “First you’ll have to get through the schedule you’ve given yourself.”

“Piece of cake.” She glanced down at her watch and sighed.

“Time to get moving?”

“Time to get moving.”

“Go on then. And squeeze us in for dinner tonight, will you?”

She grinned and kissed his cheek before pushing to her feet. “Of course, Papa. See you later. Bye Mom.”

She jogged down the hill, letting her momentum carry her. She slowed down at the bottom and looked back to Raoul. He hadn’t moved from his spot by the grave. He was the man who took her in without hesitation, sacrificed for her, cherished and adored her. Whoever her father was, she didn’t need him. She had more than enough father in Raoul Drake.

With that settled in her mind, she took off back toward the house. She had a full day ahead of her and hiking with Tyler to get ready for.

<< Chapter 5 || Chapter 7 >>

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