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The rising sun cast only the slightest of lights across the rocky trail as Mari climbed. Even as ingrained as the trek was, she took her time. She knew how quickly it could turn treacherous. She had enough scratches and bruises to remind her. Reaching the end, she extended her arms to get a solid grip of the rocks and climbed up the rocky face of the overhang.

She drew her legs up and crawled to the back of the wall. Resting her back there, she settled. She closed her eyes and deeply inhaled the scent of the ocean. It was her secret place, combining her favorite things: the ocean, hiking, and nature. Up here she could clear her head enough to sort through her own thoughts.

How you handle it from here on out? That’s on you, Ellie. Gage’s words repeated themselves over and over in her head. She wanted to pout, to ignore them, to rage, and a host of other immature things. Gage’s words took those options away. Whatever she did now, that reflected on her. Not them. Miranda Drake loved Sakina. Even as a child, Mari knew that. Yet Blake Mason had been able to draw her away for years. It spoke volumes.

Still, if Tyler was to be believed there was a strong possibility he was tied up in a myriad of illegal activities. It would explain why he had enemies and why they felt the need to keep her from him. There was no guarantee he was the same man her mother once loved. Gage remained firm on his stance. If she wanted the story, she’d have to hear it from Blake. She tugged the hair at the nape of her neck.

Feet slipping on rocks reached her ears. She didn’t open her eyes. No one came up here or knew how to find the place but her. And Julia and Rylee. They only intruded when they were worried.

“How’d you know I was here?” she asked when she heard them climb up.

“I got a call from Tyler.” Mari stiffened and opened her eyes but Julia pressed on. “He said you headed out pretty early and could use a friend.”

So much for space. She guessed she should be glad he sent them instead of coming after her himself.

“We tried to wait for you to come to us,” Rylee added softly. “We were worried about you climbing up here if your head was cluttered. Things with Tyler-”

Mari blew out a harsh breath. “Tyler is the least of my concerns right now.” That was only partly true but still.

“Talk to us,” Julia encouraged, sitting down next to her with Rylee doing the same on the other side.

She was silent for several minutes, trying to figure out how much to share. It sucked being evasive with the women who were family to her but until she had a better handle of what was going on, she needed to be careful. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, Tyler’s warning to silence stuck with her.

“I told you a while back Raoul was worried about me wanting to find my father. Turns out he was worried because he knows who he is.”

Rylee’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “But I thought only your mom knew?”

“Turns out that wasn’t true.”

“So you know who he is,” Julia prompted.

“Yeah.”

“What are you thinking?”

Mari leaned her head back against the rocks again and sighed. “That’s why I’m up here. I don’t know.”

“Why isn’t he here?” Julia wanted to know and Mari smiled weakly at the anger on her behalf. This was where things got tricky.

“Apparently he’s into something that’s given him enemies. He was supposedly trying to protect me by keeping his distance. I haven’t gotten the full story yet. Gage is his brother.”

“No way!” Rylee breathed. “Are you serious?”

Her laughter held no amusement. “Yeah, who would’ve guessed Uncle Gage was really Uncle Gage.”

Rylee leaned over and covered one of Mari’s hands with her own, squeezing gently. Mari turned her head and smiled in her direction.

“Do you want to meet him?” she asked.

Mari shrugged. “What’s the point after all these years?”

“You’ve always had questions. If nothing else, you could get some answers. Maybe some closure? And I’m sure he has things about your mom he could tell you.”

“He does want to meet you, right?” Julia prompted when she didn’t speak.

“That’s the word so far. Apparently now that I know, he wants to make nice.”

No one said anything for several moments. Mari pushed forward and braced her elbows on her knees, her hands sliding through her hair.

“I can’t really say no. Not without looking like a childish brat. My mom loved him. Till the day she died, she loved him. Never gave another man a chance. There had to be something there worth that commitment, right? If for no other reason I feel like I should do it for her.”

“So there’s your answer.”

“Yeah. There’s my answer.”

She dropped her head and breathed in. Julia’s firm hand rested on her back.

“You know if you want us there all you have to do is give the word.”

“I know.” She whispered the words and they weren’t just a platitude. Even before Miranda’s death the three girls were inseparable. Her death only drew them closer. They were her sisters in every way that mattered.

Julia patted her back and then she felt Rylee’s arms wrap tightly around her.

“Love you.”

“Love you too.”

“Don’t think too hard. Call if you need us.”

Mari laughed softly. “I’ll do my best. Thanks guys.”

“Always,” they returned simultaneously.

Moments later she heard their footsteps fade as they started back down. A smile touched her lips but she didn’t lift her head. They knew her too well. She gave herself another half hour, enjoying the sea breeze and letting her mind settle on the decision she made.

When she started back down the beach she was far calmer than she was heading up. She still bypassed the main house. She made the decision but they could wait a little longer to hear it. Instead she crossed to the estate from the side and went straight for the guesthouse.

She saw them the moment it came into view. The yard was filled with multi-colored pinwheels. She tried to fight the smile even though no one was there to see it. Apparently Tyler decided her time was up.

She bent down and drew her fingers along a few of the pinwheels. There, with her heart aching and her mind torn, she made a decision. Tyler wanted Blake Mason. She wanted answers. If Tyler found something…well, Blake made his own bed.

<< Chapter 18 || Chapter 20 >> 

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