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Yet again to Mari’s surprise, Tyler didn’t take off after she agreed to give them another shot. Instead, he turned on soft music and warmed up her dinner just as he would’ve before all of the craziness started. When the food was ready he sat down at the table with her, declining anything of his own. She just dug into her plate when he balanced his chair on two legs and spoke.

“I’m guessing you and your family have talked about Blake.”

“Yeah, a couple of times. I talked to Gage and Raoul about it again tonight. He wants to visit.”

His chair came down with a thud. “He’ll actually come here?”

Her fork hovered just in front of her mouth and her brow furrowed. “That’s what Gage said.”

He looked at her but when she said nothing else he shook his head. “I guessed he would’ve had you brought to him. I didn’t think he would come to you.”

His words reminded her he knew far more about her father than she did.

“Why?”

“It would’ve been safer for him that way. Less risky. He has enemies and him being outside of his usual areas is a vulnerability. When is he coming?”

“I don’t know yet. Gage is going to get it set up and let me know. I should have at least a day’s warning.”

“You’ll let me know when you find out?”

She hesitated and set her fork down to give him her complete focus. “On one condition.”

Tension lined his shoulders as he met her eyes and pushed the chair back on its legs again. “Are we going to have conditions on everything now?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I was asking a question.”

“No,” she gritted out. “But if we’re going to do this, we’re doing it together and that means there’s going to be times when you need to take into consideration what I need and want.”

“What’s the condition?”

The lack of agreement planted a seed of unease within her and she didn’t tear her eyes from him as she made her condition known.

“I want to meet him alone the first time. You’ll have plenty of time to do whatever but I want that first meeting. Just me and him.”

“I can give you that.”

Relief stole through her. “Good.”

“But you’ll still let me know when he’s coming.”

“I can give you that,” she returned.

They both went quiet and Mari focused on her dinner until Tyler stood to his feet. She looked up and found him staring down at her.

“We lost something when you found out the truth. We’re going to get it back. Not tonight, but we’ll get it back.”

She wasn’t so sure but rather than voice that, she swallowed and nodded. He leaned down to kiss her forehead.

“I’m going to clear out. What time’s your last tour tomorrow?”

“4:30.”

“I’ll see you after work then.”

“Okay.” She paused, searching for the right thing to say. Tyler was right. They’d lost the easiness of their relationship. “Goodnight.”

“Don’t forget to lock up,” he added before he walked out the door.

She sighed as she finished up her dinner. She thought she finally had a plan but tonight with Tyler showed her it wasn’t going to be as easy or smooth as she once predicted. Knocking interrupted her thoughts a few minutes later. Assuming it was Tyler forgetting something, she tossed her plate and answered the door to find Gage there. Her uncle. The truth still rattled her every time she saw him. All these years the connection to her father was right in front of her teaching her how to fish, introducing her to the world through stories of his many adventures, and helping her navigate the tricky waters of teenage years.

“I saw Tyler head out,” he explained with a small smile. “Do you mind if I come in for a few minutes?”

Shaking her head, she pulled the door open wider and turned to let him follow her into the house.

“You two fixed whatever the problem was?” he asked sinking down onto the couch.

“There wasn’t a problem to fix. I’ve just been busy so it’s been harder for us to get together like we used to.”

The lie didn’t sit well. She’d never had a reason to lie. Not to Gage. Sure as a child she’d told Raoul a few to stay out of trouble or sometimes, to go get into trouble but not since high school had that been an issue. She wondered just how much playing Tyler’s game was going to cost her.

Gage stared at her. “To hear everybody tell it, busy didn’t stop you two from getting together before. So again, you two fixed whatever the problem was?”

She settled into the armchair across from him and laughed. “Sometimes I forget how well you know me. We talked and got some things sorted out. The only thing we can do now is see how it goes from here. We’re good for now.”

“You really like him.”

She drew in a deep fortifying breath. Blake hadn’t arrived yet but they were already on stage. Still, Gage knew her and that meant the closer she stuck to the truth the better things would go.

“He’s…different from anyone I’ve ever dealt with. Sometimes I can’t imagine anyone better than him. Other times I tell myself to slow down and not get carried away. Time tells you a lot about a person, the things they can’t hide. We need more time under our belt. I know you and Raoul worry.” With good reason, she added to herself. “Still I want to see where it goes. I don’t want to look back later and have regrets.”

He was silent for a minute before he leaned in. “That’s your decision, Ellie. I wouldn’t take that from you. I want you happy and if he’s part of that happiness then okay. If not, you know I’m obligated to break his neck.”

She smiled at the threat Gage gave ever since she was old enough to be interested in boys. “I haven’t forgotten.”

“Good. Make sure he knows it too.” He shifted on the couch. “I talked to Blake.”

Her breath caught and she released it slowly. “And?”

“He’d be here tonight if you let him but we settled on Friday.”

Friday. In less than two days she would meet the man Miranda loved until death, the man who fathered her. She would finally meet Blake Mason.

<< Chapter 21 || Chapter 23 >>

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