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It was time.

Mari couldn’t put it off any longer. She made the decision and she needed to let the others know. There was no use in dragging it out any further. She parked at the guesthouse after work and was getting ready to head to the main house when she found the stuffed toy jaguar holding a single green and yellow flower from the Rocanda trail.

She steeled herself against the emotion threatening to rise. First it was the pinwheels and now this. As always, everything Tyler did was specific to her. The time he granted her was definitely coming to an end. That was fine. She made more decisions about him during her tours that day too. She would deal with him later. For now she picked up the stuffed animal, trying not to hold it to her chest as she started across the grass.

When she opened the back door Allison was at the stove stirring what smelled like cabbage in a pot. Gage sat at the breakfast bar with a laptop in front of him, focused on it as if it held the answer to all life’s questions. Raoul was seated beside him, playing with his hands without any real thought.

He looked every minute of his fifty-four years. She didn’t want to see that, didn’t want to acknowledge how all of this was affecting him too.  She had her hands full dealing with her own thoughts and emotions.

She shut the door behind her and just stood there. Allison turned at her entrance and offered a tentative smile. She didn’t miss Raoul and Gage’s eyes on her either.

“Hey Mari. Join us for dinner?”

Given she hadn’t eaten a full meal all day she didn’t see a reason to turn her down. “Yeah, dinner’s good. Make it to go though. Long day”

Allison’s smile weakened. Then her eyes landed on the stuffed animal in Mari’s hand.

“From Tyler? I haven’t seen him around much lately.”

Raoul jerked to attention then as if the same occurred to him. Mari shrugged off the question and spun one of the kitchen chairs around to take a seat.

“Things have been busy.”

She saw the raised brows at that. Truthfully, “busy” never kept her and Tyler from finding a way to spend time together but given the tension over news of her father, she didn’t expect them to push. She set the toy on the table and leaned her chair back on two legs. Her eyes swept over Raoul and Gage.

“I made a decision about Blake.”

Both men tensed as if bracing for what she would say next. Gage closed his laptop and turned to face her fully.

“I’ll meet him,” she said on a rushed breath. “I’m not promising anything after that but I’ll give him that much.”

Gage didn’t try to hide his relief. He broke into a broad grin.

“You won’t regret it. I’ll call him, get things set up.”

She didn’t know if she believed Gage’s words but she nodded anyway. “Do that.”

Raoul said nothing as he studied her through tired eyes. “You’re sure?” he half croaked.

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“How much time do you need?” Gage asked before Raoul could question her further.

She shrugged as Allison set a plate of food before Raoul. “Give me a day or two of warning but other than that there’s no need to put it off.”

“I don’t want you to feel pushed into this, Mari,” Raoul butted back in, ignoring the look Gage shot him.

“You should’ve said that when we talked about it the first time,” Mari muttered as she stood to accept her foil-wrapped plate.

Raoul dropped his fork. It clattered against the plate and drew everyone’s attention. Gage’s brow drew down in a furious V and he braced his hands on the edge of the island as he stared at Raoul.

“Do not back out of this now,” he warned through gritted teeth.

Raoul ignored him and focused solely on Mari. “I told you I thought Miranda would want this. That wasn’t a lie but more than that, she would want you happy. If this is going to make you unhappy, don’t you force yourself through it out of some sense of obligation to her.”

“Mari-”

“Shut up, Gage.”

Gage’s eyes shot back to Raoul. “You made your case but Blake isn’t here to make his. I’ll make it for him.” He turned back to Mari and took her free hand in his. “There is nothing more important to Blake than you. Nothing. Staying away from you all these years shredded him. You finding out and wanting to meet him gives him a reason to do what he’s wanted to do since you were four and he sent Miranda away with you. I’m asking you not to take that away from him. One meeting and whatever you want from there, we’ll respect.”

Mari hesitated, looking between the two men. Finally she pushed out a breath. “I told myself I would do it for Mom, because she would want that. And that’s true, but I need to do this for me too. I’ve had questions and me being mad isn’t worth not getting the answers. So I’ll meet him. Not for Mom. Not for him. Not for Gage. I’m doing it for me.” She squeezed Gage’s hand. “So like I said, set that up and give me a little warning.”

Gage sat back and closed his eyes. “I’ll do it right now, Ellie.”

Raoul was still studying her in silence. “As long as you’re sure. I want you happy.”

She nodded then grabbed her gift and lifted the plate up. With a faint smile at Allison she backed up toward the door. “Thanks for dinner.  I’ll catch up with you guys tomorrow.”

“Goodnight Mari,” Allison returned with a gentle smile as she let herself out of the house.

It was done. The only thing left to do was wait for Blake’s arrival. Just because she made the decision didn’t mean she was ready for the outcomes though. She needed to use that time to pull herself together and prepare for that.

She ducked under the branch of the willow tree and froze in her steps, squeezing the stupid stuffed animal in her other hand . Tyler sat at the bottom of the stairs to the guest house with his elbows braced on his knees and his hands clasped in front of him. He pushed to his feet when he saw her. Taking a deep breath, she gave up on a quiet night in and walked out to meet him.

<< Chapter 19 || Chapter 21 >> 

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