Mari reeled in shock, lowering her gun. She recalled him asking about her searching for her dad. She could only imagine he checked her electronics in search of any contact she might have with her father despite her reassurances she didn’t know the man. Blake Mason. She shook her head. It didn’t make sense. He didn’t know her father.

“Even if I believed you, and I don’t by the way, there’s one big problem. I don’t talk to my father. I don’t exist to him and he doesn’t exist to me so why would you think hanging around me would get you any closer to him? You want to try being honest now? I know it’s something of a struggle for you, but maybe you could try it for once.”

He glared, but she merely stared expectantly at him.

“What? Did you think I was just going to smile at you and assure you I didn’t hold it against you?”

He shook his head, but chose not to address what she said. “I’m here because even though he’s kept his distance, word is he keeps an eye on his princess.”

Mari shoved her hand through her hair and barked a harsh laugh. “This is ridiculous. I don’t know where you got your ‘word’ from, but they were obviously wrong and you really need to get better sources. Does it look like anybody has their eye on me?”

“Gage Mason.”

She dropped into the chair beside her with no grace. “What?” she whispered.

“I hung around long enough and Blake’s brother comes sniffing around. Yeah, you’ve got eyes on you, sweetheart.”

She couldn’t believe this. She called Gage her uncle but never imagined that was true biologically. Did Raoul know? Something in her chest clenched at the thought. Could he know who her father was? Who Gage was? She pushed back those thoughts, unable to face them then.

“What…what do you want with Blake Mason?”

“There’s some speculation Mason is into some pretty dirty stuff. I’m clearing up the speculation one way or the other.”

She frowned and pushed back out of her chair to pace. First she learned who her father was and now he was involved in some bad stuff? Yeah, she believed him. It was probably stupid on her part. No, it was definitely stupid on her part. It did explain what he wanted from her. Tyler was full of surprises. It was something she enjoyed about him, but none of the surprises recently inspired warm or fuzzy feelings. In fact, dread settled in her stomach.

“Dirty stuff like what?” she asked as she faced him again.



“Among other things.”

Her jaw dropped in horror and she whispered, “People?”

He didn’t say anything as he watched her.

“Who do you work for?”

“Not at liberty to discuss that. Not even for you, sweetheart.”

“Don’t call me that.”

His eyes narrowed and he rose from the bed. She immediately took a step back. His frown deepened.

“I’m still the same man, Mari. Still Tyler. Still crazy about you.”

“No, you pretended to be somebody you knew I would let in. That’s not you. I have no idea who you are. Is Tyler even your real name?”

He crowded closer and she took another involuntary step back, her back hitting the wall. He eased the gun from her hand and tucked it in the back of his jeans before he rested his palms flat against the wall on either side of her head.

“Back off.” She meant to bite off the words but they came out breathless and nowhere near as firm as she wanted.

“You still want me.”

“I’m sure that will go away once my head stops spinning. You lied to me.”

He leaned in until their mouths almost touched. “I need Blake Mason, but what’s between us is between us. That’s real. This is real.”

Before she could counter he closed that last inch and kissed her. His hand closed around her neck and tilted her head for a better angle. The moments he kissed her felt like the real Tyler Ross. Whoever that was.

Finally she found it in her to tear her mouth from his. She hated that she was breathing hard and that she stupidly wanted more.

“I need time. Space. Both away from you.”

“I can’t give you that. When he shows up, I need to be in place.”

If he shows up.”

“He will. Trust me, Mari.”

“You’ve already proven I can’t do that.”

He dragged a hand down over his face. “I can give you a day or two, but then we’ve gotta talk. You need to know how to play this.”

“I haven’t agreed to play anything.”

He shook his head. “I’m not gonna argue with you right now. Take the time and sort it out. We’ll talk.”

She glared at him, inhaling sharply when he leaned in.

“I’m giving you time. Don’t think that means we’re done. We’re not.”

“You don’t make that decision,” she whispered.

“I will.”

Abruptly he pulled away from her and opened the door. “Lock up behind me. I don’t have to tell you to keep this to yourself.”

“Goodbye Tyler,” she said, her voice finding some firmness now that he wasn’t in her space.

They stared at each other in silence before his lips quirked up in a weak smile.
“Talk to you soon.”

And then he was gone; leaving her to deal with the bombshell he dropped.


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