Mari waved goodbye to her last group of the day and walked into the back to put away the fishing poles and bait boxes. A few minutes later she returned and leaned against the counter beside Jeremy.

“Always a nice group to end the day with. Nothing too tiring.”

“You’re really good with…everyone, heck. I haven’t seen you get flustered with anybody,” Jeremy said.

She laughed it off. “I’ve been dealing with people like this my whole life. You learn stuff.”

The shop door swung open and Gage strode in with a wide grin on his face.

It was contagious and Mari immediately mimicked it.

“Hey Gage.”

“Hey Ellie Girl. Are you done for the day?”

“Yeah, just finished up with a fishing trip.”

“Then come have some fun with me.”

She rounded the counter with a smile. “You don’t have to tell me twice.”

“You still have a thing for those slushies around the corner?”

“You don’t forget a thing.”

“Not about my best girl.”

She leaned into him as they walked out of the store and up the sandy concrete.

“Raoul mentioned you were thinking about trying to find your father.”

She sighed. First Tyler and now Gage. Who knew how many people had heard about it by now?

“I told Papa it was a passing thought and that I decided against it. He’s still worried about it?”

“No, not worried. A couple of years ago he would’ve been. Now I think he just wants to know if he needs to be prepared for it.”

“I told him no. I don’t have anywhere to start and things are busy enough here as it is. Besides, he probably knows I exist and yet he hasn’t shown his face once. What’s the point?”

“Closure’s rarely a bad thing.”

“Well consider it closed. Tell him that, will you? And make him understand it this time.”

His lips twitched in a weak smile as he held the door open to the smoothie shop. Minutes later they strolled back down the street, Mari sipping at her grape and cherry slushy as they went. They turned for the beach when Mari broke into a wide grin. Tyler walked up the road toward them.

She looped her arms around his neck the second he reached them and he dipped his head to kiss her cheek.

“Hey sweetheart. Who’s this?”

She barely resisted nestling in, but managed to pull back enough to look between Gage and Tyler.

“Gage, this is my boyfriend, Tyler. Tyler, my uncle Gage.”

Gage extended his hand. “I’ve heard quite a bit about you.”

“All good things hopefully.” Tyler smiled as he returned the handshake. “I’m sure she’s glad to have you in town. Staying long?”

“I’d like to stick around for a while.”

“That’s good to hear. We can grab something to eat together sometime. Just don’t let her talk you into hiking Cocano.”

She laughed and elbowed him. He grinned as he dodged her, pulling his phone from his pocket as the screen lit up.

“Excuse me for a second. I need to take this.”

He stepped away from them with an apologetic smile to take the call. She cocked her head, wondering just who was on the line. He never spent too much time with anyone else on the island. She shook those thoughts from her head. Todd and now Raoul were making her paranoid. She scraped at the slushy with her straw and nudged Gage.

“So what do you think? Uncle senses tingling?”

He chuckled. “He worked security you said? You know Raoul and I just want you to be safe. Those private security guys can be…trouble. Look at how he carries himself. Trouble, Ellie. You don’t need trouble.”

“Come on, Gage. We’re in Sakina. Whatever he did with security wasn’t here. There’s no trouble.”

“Don’t ‘come on, Gage’ me. You know we’re going to look out for our number one girl and that means we’re never going to think some knucklehead is good enough for you.”

“As long as I think he’s good enough for me, shouldn’t that be all that matters?”

“Sorry, but no.”

She rolled her eyes, letting the subject drop when Tyler walked back toward them.

“Sorry about that. A friend from back home.”

“Where are you from?” Gage asked curiously.

“Texas. Austin.”

“That’s a change. Mari tells me you used to work security too. Must be hard to get used to a slower pace.”

Tyler smiled. “I needed the change. Then again, with Mari there’s not too much slow. We keep pretty active, busy.”

Gage’s smile was short lived. “She’s good, but that’s a whole different pace. Man like you changes the pace and it’s one of two things. You running from trouble or bringing it?”

“Gage!” Mari hissed.

“No, it’s okay sweetheart.” The two were staring each other down. “No trouble coming or going, Gage. I met a few guys who fit that mold. I’m not one of ‘em. I’ve had it hard all my life. I found a way of life that’s easier and I want to keep it.”

Gage dipped his head in a nod. “Fair enough. Just how long are you planning to hang around?”

Tyler softened and his eyes drifted to Mari. “The foreseeable future. I found something worth hanging around for.”

Gage watched Mari flush and sighed. Raoul was right. The girl was already half in love Tyler Ross.


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