The rest of the afternoon passed with everyone telling Blake and Reese stories from Mari’s childhood. When evening gave way to night and more than one mouth yawned, Tyler and Mari finally got to their feet to call it a night. 

“I need some rest. You do too. We’re hittin’ it bright and early tomorrow,” Mari warned Blake and Reese even though she found herself oddly reluctant to end the night. 

“We’ll be ready,” Blake promised.

“Does breakfast at seven work?” Allison offered.

Mari nodded as Tyler slipped an arm around her waist. “That’s perfect. I’ll see you guys in the morning.”

There was a chorus of goodnights as Tyler and Mari walked out of the house. They took their time walking down the path leading to the guesthouse. The faint sounds of the night and the gentle glow of the moon were relaxing, peaceful. Mari let out a soft sigh. 

“Long day for you,” Tyler acknowledged. “Big day.”

“Both,” she agreed quietly. 

She was mentally and physically exhausted. Falling into bed and passing out would be a gift, but she had a feeling she’d spend a lot of time replaying the day before she finally found sleep. 

“You handled it with grace.” 

He squeezed her gently and she let her head touch his shoulder for a moment, absorbing his compliment and presence. 

“Thank you. It wasn’t easy. But I’m glad I’m doing it.”

“That’s good. I don’t want you to have regrets.”

They ducked under the wisps of the willow. Tyler let his arm fall from around her waist, but caught her hand as he approached his truck parked in front. He opened the door and reached inside. A second later he straightened with a bag in hand. Mari raised a brow. 

“I’m staying the night,” he confirmed as he closed the door and took her hand again. 

“Because of him?” 

The words were more challenging than she intended, but she didn’t take them back in the face of his frown.

“Because my girl had a big day. I want her to rest easy and she tends to do that when she sleeps in my arms.”

Her frown mirrored his because he wasn’t wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d spent the night and she did sleep well when he was with her. Maybe him staying would keep her from obsessing over every single detail from the day. 

She sighed and followed him up to the house where he opened the door and led the way inside. She gently undid her bun and massaged her fingers into the thick curls while Tyler dropped his bag on the chair.

“I can hear you thinking,” he teased with a smile. “Talk to me. What did you think?”

“I…I don’t know.” Mari lifted her shoulders in a half-hearted shrug. “I mean he seems like he cares, which was unexpected. I know Raoul all but said he did. Even you said it, but to see it was just…surprising. He didn’t really share much about his life. Not that I expected him to. I mean we’re strangers. The most I got was it’s dangerous and it’s not something he can walk away from.”

“It’s a place to start. You guys have time to get to know each other.”

“You’re right. I know you’re right. It really wasn’t a bad first meeting. Part of me just can’t believe the day really happened.”

“What did he tell you about Reese?”

“That he’s a friend.”

“That’s it?”

“He said they’ve been friends for a long time,” she added. “It’s not like he’s just going to tell me all of his secrets.”

He tapped his chin and nodded so she left it at that. Something just didn’t sit right about telling him Reese was Blake’s bodyguard. He was probably already guessing that anyway. 

 “It’s been a little hard,” she admitted. “I have to focus on not thinking about what you told me while I’m talking to him, on not asking questions I shouldn’t know to ask.”

“C’mere,” he encouraged gently.

She rolled her neck as she walked over to him. He rubbed a thumb over her cheek. 

“I wish you didn’t know. I don’t want what I have to do to make this harder for you and I know it’s easier said than done, but try to focus just on getting to know him.”

“I am trying. What exactly is your plan anyway? Because I can’t really picture him deciding to do a shipment from here or whatever else you’re trying to catch him in the middle of. What are you going to find? And how are you going to find anything?”

“That’s not for you to worry about.”

Her back straightened as she cocked a brow. “Oh really? So now that he’s in reach, none of this is any of my business? Is that right?”

 “You know that’s not what I meant. It’s also not what I said.” He took her hands and tugged her to him. “This is stressful for you and I’m asking for a lot. I get that. I don’t want to add any more to it than I absolutely have to. So when I say it’s not for you to worry about, I mean I want you to focus on what this means to and for you while I worry about the other stuff and what I need to do. If I learn something that means things will change for you, I’ll make sure I bring you in on that. But I don’t want this coming between us any more than it already has. Okay?”

She frowned up at him. It was so easy to believe he was genuine. His words. The concern in his eyes. She wanted to be smart, to stay on her guard, but this was beyond anything she’d ever dealt with. She was so out of her element.

“I want to trust you.”

He tightened his arms around her. “Then trust me, Mari. I promise you won’t regret it.”

She laid her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around him. She didn’t speak for long moments, weighing what he was asking from her. He wanted her trust about a father she’d only just met, was just now getting the chance to know. He wanted her trust knowing it might not mean good things for Blake in the future. Shouldn’t she be glad about that if Blake turned out to be the man Tyler was concerned he might be? Didn’t she want justice for those he’d harmed if it was true? If he was innocent, they lost nothing. If he was innocent there was no risk. 

“Okay,” came her whispered response.

He stroked her back as his lips pressed into her hair. “Thank you, beautiful.”

They stood like that in silence for a few moments as she soaked up his affection.

“C’mon,” he encouraged softly as he pulled back to look at her. “Get ready for bed so you can get some rest. You’ve got a full day ahead of you tomorrow.”

She nodded and went to change clothes. The light was off when she came out of the bathroom. He’d flipped the covers back and was lying on the side closest to the door. She crawled over him then cuddled against him as he drew the covers over them. She tipped her head up and he kissed her soundly as they settled in.


“Goodnight,” she echoed.

She laid her head on his chest, wishing it were as easy to lay her doubts to rest.

<< Chasing Truth: Chapter 26 Chasing Truth: Chapter 28 >>