“I’m guessing my time is up.”

Mari didn’t try to hide the bite in her tone. Tyler had an agenda. She would be stupid to forget that. She watched his gaze dip to the stuffed animal. His lips curved at the corners and he took a small step forward. She stopped once more.

He slipped his other hand into the pocket of his jeans and his eyes lifted to rest on her face.

“You’re still mad. I get that. I left the other night when I didn’t want to, with a lot of things still between us. I gave you the time and the space you asked for, but now it’s time for us to talk.”

“You know, I’m noticing a theme here. You make a decision and I’m just supposed to fall in line with it.”

“Are you going to be difficult about this or do I just need to wait you out?”

“Wait me out. And hold your breath while you do it,” she added over her shoulder as she started around him.

He caught her arm, pulling her to him. “Don’t do this.”

Her brow furrowed with fury as she thought about just what he’d ruined. Their relationship had been so easy, so affectionate and amazing. That was now gone.

“I’m not the one doing anything. You did this.”

He hesitated. “Hear me out, Mari. That’s all I’m asking right now.”

She pulled her arm free, but nodded as she took the few stairs up to the door. She barely pushed the door open before he was behind her, following her inside. She could feel his warmth at her back. Then he leaned in, his words tickling her ear.

“Missed you, sweetheart. Spent a whole day at Rocanda thinking about you.”

She closed her eyes against the words as if it would shield her. It was these moments that heaped on the confusion. He wanted to get close to Blake. It was his entire reason for being on the island to begin with. She was a means to an end. Yet, when he said things like that, looked at her as if she mattered…well, she had a hard time remembering that.

She turned and set both the plate and stuffed animal on the table before she made herself face him again.

“You’re using me, Tyler. Don’t think for a moment I’ve forgotten that.”

“I found you that morning at the beach because I knew who you were. You’re one of the few consistent links to Blake and it wasn’t easy to find that out. I’m not going to lie about that and I’m not going to apologize for doing my job. But Mari, you took me out to Rocanda the next day and things started to change. The more I was with you, the more personal it got. I need access to Blake. That hasn’t changed. Neither has what I told you. What’s between us is between us and that’s real. Maybe we don’t like how we got here, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Don’t sit there and tell me it’s not.”

Arguing about it was getting her nowhere and she was afraid if she wasn’t careful Tyler would talk her into believing him. She tried another angle.

“So let me make sure I’ve got this right. You want to get close enough to Blake to…investigate? Figure out whether or not he’s really into trafficking…things?”

She’d done her best to shy away from the things Tyler hinted Blake might be involved with. There were years of abandonment and now animosity between them, but that didn’t mean she wanted him to be that kind of man.

Tyler’s eyes never softened, never left her, but he allowed the subject change.

“I need to get information.”

She chewed her bottom lip and then forced out a long hard breath. “Then right now we need the same thing.  As far as everyone else is concerned we’re still together and everything’s good. When he shows, you’re the boyfriend and you can do whatever it is you need to do.”

She thought he would smile and acknowledge her concession as his victory. Maybe he would even assume everything was good between them again. He did none of those things. His eyes seemed to darken as he crowded her.

“As far as everyone else is concerned?” he echoed quietly.

“That’s what I said.”

“And as far as we’re concerned?”

His voice was softer, but she wasn’t fooled. Still, she held her ground without breaking the stare.

“We’re two people helping each other reach a goal.”

He was shaking his head before she even finished. “Not good enough, Marielle.”

“Well it’s going to have to be because that’s all we’ve got.”

He continued crowding closer until she took a few involuntary steps back. Her back came up against the edge of the counter, halting her retreat. Tyler came closer still and cupped her face. His words were slow and pointed.

“You do not come into my life and make me feel things I swore I would never feel for a woman and then dismiss me. I lied to you. I owned up to that. I’m asking you to work through it with me. For me. If I could’ve met you another way, without all this between us, I would take it in a heartbeat. I can’t do that.  This is the hand we’ve got, baby. Play it out with me. Give me a chance to show you we can turn it into a winning hand.”

Her heart beat far too fast and his serious gaze held her frozen.

“I don’t know if I can trust you,” she finally whispered.

“Let me show you that you can,” he whispered back.

She closed her eyes against the force of his gaze. “If I decide it’s not working, we go back to my plan.”

He smiled and kissed her forehead. “We won’t need your plan.”

With those words he confirmed her fears. Tyler was talking her into believing him.


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