A sandy path through the sand dunes to a beautiful beach with an ...

Reese was silent during the walk from the beach back to Mari’s place. Only once the house was in sight did he speak again.

“Pack a bag for the night when we get inside.”

She hesitated to question him, but the order made no sense. “Where are we going?”

“Raoul’s.”

He said no more as he led the way inside to complete his normal inspection of the house. Certain the house was as they left it, he gestured her toward the bedroom. She hurried inside to gather what she needed. Her mind raced the entire time. Reese was clearly angry with her. Blake was guaranteed to be as well. Raoul would be upset she hadn’t told him the truth.

The second she walked into the living room with her bag he hustled her out of the house to Raoul and Allie’s. They were in the living room watching TV when Mari and Reese let themselves inside. Raoul glanced over his shoulder, saw Reese’s face, and immediately reached for the remote to turn off the TV.

“What is it?”

Mari cupped her arms, trying to avoid Raoul’s gaze while Reese explained the truth about Tyler.

“I want to keep her here tonight while we dig into Tyler. We don’t want any surprises. I need to make another sweep of the house for bugs before I take her back too.”

“You don’t even have to ask,” Raoul said the second Reese finished.

“I appreciate that. I’ll give Blake a call now.”

He retreated into the kitchen, leaving Mari to face her surrogate parents alone.

“I told you I had a bad feeling about him,” Raoul grumbled predictably. “Why didn’t you say something?”

Mari threw up her hands. “What was I supposed to say? Hey, the guy you’ve been warning me about is actually a spy here to investigate the father everyone’s pretending they don’t know?”

“Yes!”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, and you would’ve had a heart attack.”

A weak laugh slipped from Allie even as tears threatened to fall. Raoul immediately wrapped his arm around his wife even as he glared at Mari.

“You both are nothing but trouble.”

The worry was plain in Raoul’s eyes despite his teasing words. He upended his entire life for her when her mother died by taking her in. She put the same look in his eyes many times in their life together, but was starker now. Fear was woven into the worry because the risks were far higher. She hated she was the cause of it and hated even more she couldn’t change it.

“Speaking of trouble,” Mari said forcing a lighter tone, “you gave Reese your steak recipe?”

“Are you serious right now?”

“Yes! He’s not even family.”

Raoul stared at her before muttering, “It’s not like you were going to do anything with it.”

“Not an excuse!”

“Mari,” Reese called.

She turned to see him in the doorway of the kitchen holding his phone up. Knowing she couldn’t delay the talk, she forced herself not to drag her feet as she crossed the room to him. She took the phone from him and walked into the kitchen. Reese wordlessly followed.

“Hi, Blake,” she answered hesitantly. She was braced for any possible reaction. Except for the one she got.

“Thank God he didn’t hurt you,” Blake breathed. “All I can think about is the things he could’ve done before I even met you. My security failed you. I’m sorry, Mari.”

She blinked, slowly letting out the breath she was holding. “It’s not your fault. He was here before I even got back from school. There was no reason to think he was here for me.”

“We should’ve looked harder when he started getting close to you.”

“He didn’t hurt me. I’m fine, and so far, it’s worked out okay.  I’m…I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

“I was a stranger,” he said in quiet understanding that smoothed out her remaining tension.

“You’re taking it easy on me, but I’m glad. So…ummm…what exactly are you going to do now?”

“Figure out who Tyler is and what he wants. You’ll break up with him. I don’t care what excuse you come up with. Use whatever works best. You’ll know.”

“I can’t just randomly break up with him. He’ll know I told you.”

Reese was immediately beside her and reached for the phone. A quick press to the screen put the call on speaker.

“Blake, that’s a risky move.”

“That’s why you’re there.”

“I’d really rather not go risky,” Mari interjected before Reese could speak. “And besides, I don’t really know anything about what he’s doing. If I stay with him, I could find out more about what he’s planning so you have warning.”

“No.” Blake’s rejection was sharp and immediate. “I want you safe and out of his reach.”

“He’s going to be suspicious if I break up with him and that might make him do something stupid. That’s not me being safe. And there’s really no way to be out of his reach on the island.”

“Reese will keep you safe until we have Tyler under control.”

“So I was trying not to point this out, but it’s not your decision to make,” Mari finally said bluntly. “You can’t make me break up with him.”

“He’s using you.”

“And now I get to use him back.”

“Petty revenge is not worth risking your life,” he ground out. “What happens when he turns on you? Because eventually he will. You’re a means to an end.”

She shot Reese a quick look from the corner of her eye. “Like you said, that’s what Reese is here for. You don’t even know who he is yet and I’m assuming you guys looked into him already. You need as much information as you can get and you know it.”

“I don’t like it.”

“Noted.” She hesitated before she made herself push forward. “I think we need to talk about your life and what exactly it is that you do. The time to protect me with ignorance is over. Knowledge is protection now.”

Reese stiffened.

“No, it’s even more important now Tyler believes you don’t know anything,” Blake said.

“Obviously, I’m not planning on telling him or I wouldn’t have warned you. I need to know what I’m dealing with.”

There was a long silence. It was so long she thought he would deny her. Then she heard him sigh.

“You may be right, but that is not a conversation for the phone.”

“I don’t think you should come to Sakina right now,” she blurted out in protest.

Tyler was gone, but she had no clue what he was doing or planning.

“We’re in agreement there. I don’t want any other eyes drawn to the island. Reese will bring you to me.”

Mari’s brow jumped. “I’ll be coming to where you live?”

“We’ll work out the details. You’ll just need to pack and be ready when Reese says it’s time to go.”

“I can manage that.”

“Then I’ll be seeing you soon. In the meantime, stick close to Reese and listen. Don’t make me regret doing this your way.”

“For someone who just started doing this father thing, you got that part down pretty fast,” she complained.

“How,” Blake started on a soft chuckle, “in the middle of all of this mess can you still manage to make me laugh?”

“It’s a talent,” Mari said with a shrug, but her eyes were on Reese. His lips twitched and a seed of hope took root he wouldn’t hold this against her forever.

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