Mari sighed as she settled at the window at the main house. It was after dinner. She was curled up in the bay window while Gage settled into the closest armchair and Raoul and Allison took the sofa. She turned down a family dinner the day before, nowhere near ready to face them so soon. Tonight, she gave in.

Only two days passed since Tyler’s confession. He gave her the space and time she asked for so far but it wasn’t helping her clear her head. Her entire life her father was a mystery, one she didn’t think would ever be solved. Tyler handed her the missing puzzle peace with ease. More than once her fingers drifted over the keyboard, itching to type in the name Blake Mason and see what came up. Each time she forced herself away from the laptop without doing it.

Her break from Tyler was quickly noticed. Todd didn’t say a word but there were enough moments after work when Tyler was nowhere to be found that it appeared he was going to before he changed his mind. Rylee had no such restraint. Earlier that afternoon she found herself on a conference call with her best friends demanding to know what put the brakes on her relationship.

Not even with two of the people closest to her did she reveal the entirety of the truth. She settled for a half-truth, explaining that Tyler wasn’t quite the man she thought he was and she had to figure out if she could deal with that before they moved forward. Rylee accepted it with relative ease. Julia was far more curious. Still, she let Mari get away with the vague answer as if sensing she wasn’t ready to share yet.

Multiple times she thought to confront Raoul and Gage with what Tyler revealed but every time she started to, she lost her nerve and chose another subject. She found herself looking for a resemblance between her and Gage despite having always been told she could’ve been her mother’s clone. Now that she looked for it though, she could see it in the slope of their jaws. The recognition only made the truth more unbearable. Gage, at the very least, knew the truth. Raoul more than likely did as well and that ate at her until she felt nothing but confusion and pain.

Now, after days of avoidance, it finally came out.

“Who is Blake Mason?” No finesse. No lead-in. Just the question.

Gage and Raoul shared a quick look before they both locked eyes on her.

“What makes you ask?” Gage asked easily.

She rose from her seat and stared at them. “Why don’t I just save us some time and get to the real question? Why didn’t anyone bother to tell me he’s my father instead of act like you had no freaking clue for almost two decades?”

Allison pressed a hand to her mouth just as Raoul dropped his head in his hands.

“How did you find out?” he asked the floor.

“Does it matter? I should’ve found out from you! All the times I mentioned being curious about him, wanting to know who he was and what he was like. And all this time you had the answers to my questions!”

“Mari,” Allison interjected softly. “I know this is hard for you and-”

“Don’t, Ally. Just. Don’t.”

She continued anyway and reminded her of the discussion they had when Raoul first proposed. “We agreed that I’m a part of this family.”

“And right now you’re reminding me exactly where you stand in this family. So. Just. Don’t.”

Never had she felt so completely and utterly alone. Tyler was using her, the family she knew had been lying to her for years, her mother was gone, and she didn’t even want to think about her father.

“Ellie girl, take it easy on ‘em.”

“I’ve got enough mad for you too, Uncle Gage.”

His lips twitched and he didn’t hide his face from her. “Girl, you don’t know how bad it shook me the first time you called me uncle. I thought Raoul slipped up and told you the truth.”

“Why were we playing ‘Keep Mari in the Dark’ to begin with?” she asked through clenched teeth. “Why did you even come around when your own brother didn’t bother? Did it at any point cross your mind to tell me who you really are?”

“For your safety. That’s why I came and he didn’t. Of course it crossed my mind but I remembered we were doing it this way for a reason and that reason was more important than you knowing we were linked by blood. What good would that have done you if you’d been taken or worse?”

She folded her arms across her chest and stared at Gage, trying to keep her lip from trembling at his words. They were heart-felt and spoke of the value he placed on her life.

“Why would I be taken? What was so dangerous that I couldn’t know my own father’s name? That my biological uncle was around, not just some guy we met and I liked?”

“That’s not my story to tell, honey. Let Blake tell you.”

“I don’t see him sitting in this room. Oh wait, I haven’t seen him ever.”

Gage sighed hard. “That’s not true.”

“Let me rephrase that. I haven’t seen him since I was old enough to care. And I don’t anymore. He donated his sperm. We don’t need to have a meeting because of that. What I’m pissed about is you two freaking lying to me for all these years!”

Raoul lifted his head and focused tortured eyes on her. “The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt you. Every time you asked me questions about him, I asked myself would it hurt if I told you something or gave you a little scrap. Every time I wasn’t sure about that answer and I couldn’t risk you. Couldn’t risk my baby girl.”

“You could’ve just told me he didn’t want me and saved me all those stupid and pointless years of wondering about him.”

“I already lied by omission. I couldn’t outright lie to you.”

She seethed. “I haven’t met him since I was old enough to remember. What about an eighteen year long absence says he cares and wants me?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Then make me understand!”

“He has enemies, Ellie,” Gage explained quietly. “Enemies that would use you if they knew you were his daughter. You were safer without connection to him.”

Tyler and everything he revealed came to mind. He was only in Sakina to use her as a connection to her father. It gave Gage’s point some credibility.

“What does he do that he has enemies?” She held her breath, waiting to see if their story shed any light on Tyler’s.

“I already told you this isn’t my story to tell. I’ll get in touch with him and he’ll come down.”

She shook her head even as she released the breath. He didn’t give any additional details but at least he wasn’t lying to her.

“No. I don’t want him to come. He couldn’t be bothered all before. He shouldn’t be now. People would still use me so his reason for not being around hasn’t changed.”

“He wouldn’t want it like this between you. That’s why he thought it better if you didn’t know.”

“So me being pissed with him would make it worth it to risk my life all of a sudden? It’s probably good he wasn’t around. Selfish prick. Not much of a dad.”

“It’s always been risky, even without you knowing. That’s why we decided I would come around and keep an eye on you. It ups the risk with you in contact with him. There’s no denying that. We can keep it low key, enough for you to talk and hopefully still keep you off the radar.”

“Miranda loved him,” Raoul added hoarsely. “I knew that but more importantly, you knew that. That’s what you told me that day at her grave, that whatever else he was, she loved him. You thought that was important then. It should be now too. Give him a chance, Marielle. I want that for you. Miranda would want that for both of you.”

“That’s not fair,” Mari countered on a choked whisper. One thing she’d always known, always been certain of, was her mother’s love. Using her memory in this conversation was unfair.

“It’s the truth. Maybe we didn’t handle this the best way we could have but we’re here now.”

“How we handled this is on us,” Gage added softly. “How you handle it from here on out? That’s on you, Ellie.”

And no matter how pissed she was, he was right.

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