Chasing Truth: Chapter 29

Posted on 10/01/2020

“When is he leaving?”

Mari sprawled out on her bed with the phone tucked against her shoulder. The day had been fun, but it had also been long. Exhaustion made her eyes heavy.

“In a day or two,” she told Tyler absently.

 “I didn’t expect him to leave so soon. Then again I didn’t expect him to come out here at all. Have you made any plans to stay in touch? Visit?”

She lifted her shoulders in a small shrug even though he couldn’t see it.

“Not really. Nothing solid anyway. I mean, I guess I assume we’ll talk on the phone at some point. This whole thing was just…a lot.”

There was silence from Tyler’s end for a moment. “I get that. Confirm with me once you know when he’s leaving for sure.”

Mari opened her eyes to stare at the ceiling. “Have you been doing…whatever it is you were planning on doing?”

“I thought we agreed you were going to let me worry about that?” he prodded gently.

“It was a simple question.”

“Then yes. Now will you let me know when he’s leaving for sure?”

Mari pinched the bridge of her nose and let her eyes close again. “Yeah.”

Before she could get comfortable and wrap up the call with Tyler, a knock sounded on the door. She sat up with a groan.

“I’ve gotta go. Somebody’s at the door.”

“Who is it?”

She pushed up from the bed and padded over to the door to look through the peephole. A smile tugged at her lips when she saw her father standing there.

“It’s Blake. I’ll talk to you later.”

Ending the call without waiting for a response, she opened the door. 

“I’m surprised you aren’t passed out,” she greeted with a tired smile.

“I was close,” he admitted. “I had something I wanted to discuss with you though.”

Curiosity raised her brow as she stepped back to let him inside. He sat down on the couch and she curled up on the opposite end with her elbow propped against the back. 

“What’s on your mind?” 

“I want Reese to stay here with you for a little while.”

Mari straightened immediately. “Why? He’s your bodyguard.”

“I would feel more comfortable if someone was here to keep an eye on things for a little while.”

She didn’t dig too deeply into that, instead choosing to focus on him. “If Reese is here with me, then who’s with you?”

“I have other people I can count on if I need to.”

“But Reese is the one you brought here, which means he’s the one you trust the most.”

Blake paused with his lips parted before he gathered himself. “I can see you’re planning to be difficult about this.”

“I’m bringing up valid points. If you want to call that difficult, then fine.”

He heaved a heavy sigh. “Yes, Reese is the one I trust the most, which is why I want him here with you for a few days. Just in case. I don’t expect any trouble, but I don’t want to take unnecessary chances with you either.”

She paused thoughtfully, turning over his words. He wasn’t expecting any problems. That was good and she couldn’t deny the relief filling her knowing that. This was just another part of him being careful.

“Okay, I’m not saying no to that. I’m saying I’m not sure Reese is the one who should be the one staying with me. And you said a few days. How long exactly are you planning for someone to stay here?”

“A week or so.”

“That’s a long time to be without your guy. Gage could just stay. People know him here, are used to him so there wouldn’t be anything to explain. If Reese stays, we have to explain who he is somehow.”

“Calling him a family friend should be enough. Gage has already been here for a while. He has some things he needs to see to.”

“Does Reese know this is your plan?” she asked curiously. “What does he think about it?”

“You know, when I pictured this conversation, I saw you bowing out to my expertise and accepting my already-made plans.”

“How on Earth did you come up with that scenario?” she asked, laughing in disbelief.

“I still can’t figure it out myself,” he admitted with a chuckle.

“I want to talk to him about it myself. Alone.” Because she had a feeling Reese wasn’t keen on the idea of letting Blake head back without him either. 

Blake considered her and she wondered what he was thinking, what he would say.

“I don’t want you any closer to this mess than you already are. I considered when I brought Reese that it might bring you in more than I wanted. It would be better if you let me keep as much distance between you and my life as I can.”

“It’s too late for that. At least with Reese. He’s been here this whole time. I know who he is. We’ve talked. Trying to go back now doesn’t make any sense and if he’s going to be staying here for another week, it’s definitely not avoidable. I want to talk to him.”

“You’re a very hard woman to argue with.”

“So don’t,” she suggested with a grin.

Shaking his head, he pushed to his feet. “I’d like to settle this tonight if possible. I’ll send Reese to you now if that works.”

“That’s fine.”

He turned for the door then hesitated. He turned back a moment later.

“May I have a hug?”

The quietness of the question, almost as if he feared her rejection, melted Mari. She unfolded from the couch and wordlessly wrapped her arms around him. He pulled her close. She thought she felt the gentle press of his lips to her thick curls. A soft sigh escaped him and he squeezed her before letting go.

“Thank you. I’ll send Reese over now.”

“You may want to give him a fair warning in case his expectations are anything like yours were,” she teased.

His laughter shook his body and widened her smile.

“I think I’ll do that.”

He walked out the door then, leaving Mari still smiling. She settled back down on the couch. Meeting her father and spending time with him hadn’t gone anything like she imagined. She hadn’t expected to like him, to joke and laugh with him. She wanted a chance to build a real relationship with him and yet Tyler’s accusations sat in the back of her mind. If Blake were the criminal Tyler suspected he was, that would change everything. There was an inch of worry, of doubt that maybe it wouldn’t, though. She wasn’t sure what to do with that. 

There was a rhythmic knock on the door before Reese let himself inside and pulled her from her thoughts.

“I’d prefer you keep this locked,” he said closing the door and tapping it.

She bit back a smile. “I’ll remember that.”

“Good. Blake said you wanted to talk.”

“Yeah. Has he run this little babysitting plan of his by you?”

Reese’s gaze went carefully blank as he came farther inside. “We’ve discussed me remaining here for a few days after he leaves. Precautions are smart.”

“I won’t deny that and I’m definitely not saying I’m able to handle anything that might come up, but I think I’d feel more comfortable if he didn’t break pattern by leaving his right hand guy behind.”

Reese blinked and she continued on.

“I suggested Gage stay on for a few days if he’s truly worried or he can send someone else to stay with me although I understand the less people who know about me, the better.”

He continued watching her with that steady gaze. “Do you have a problem with me staying?”

She waved the question away. “It’s not about you. It’s about who you are to him. You’re not just a bodyguard. I don’t have to know everything to see that much. To me, it just seems like maybe someone would want to take advantage if he was running around without his usual guy.”

He tipped his head to the side as he studied her.

“It would be nice to get to know him before something happened to him,” she mumbled looking down at her hands as she locked her fingers together.

“You care,” he acknowledged. “And that’s good. Blake knows how to be smart and careful. Gage will travel back with him most of the way to make sure there aren’t any issues.”

Mari frowned thoughtfully. She couldn’t find fault with that plan. There was no doubt that Gage could be trusted with his own brother’s safety.

“Well.”

He laughed. “Any other objections or concerns you want to share while I’m here?”

“This isn’t going to be a lockdown situation or anything like that, right? I still go to work, hang out with my friends, do all the stuff I normally do with no problems?”

“Right.  You just do all of those things with me.”

“And when my very nosy, super-in-my-business best friends ask me who you are? Or anyone else for that matter?”

“I’m a friend of the family visiting for a while. Stick to the truth.”

He was clearly a friend of Blake’s who was indeed her family so he was right. 

“We keep it simple then.”

“Simple’s best.”

She nodded and rubbed the palms of her hands over her thighs.

“Mari.” Reese waited until she looked at him. “There shouldn’t be any issues. If there are, I’ll be here to handle them.”

She blew out a breath. “Yeah, I’ll be counting on that.”

<< Chapter 28 Chapter 30 >>

Chasing Truth: Chapter 28

Posted on 03/01/2020

Mari woke up with Tyler’s arm wrapped around her waist and her cheek to his chest. She drew in a deep breath, inhaling the clean scent of him in the darkness. Tilting her head back she studied his soft sleeping features. He was a handsome man. His crooked smile always teased one from her. She could look into his hazel eyes all day. 

She hadn’t lied to him. She wanted to trust him, was trying to do that. He was giving her reason to as time went on. They’d started on a lie, though, and she couldn’t forget that no matter how much she wanted to. She really did want to. It would make everything so much easier. 

He stirred, his hand tightening on her hip as he blinked away sleep. A slow grin crossed his face as he shifted his head to look down at her.

“Good morning, gorgeous.”

She didn’t fight the answering smile, hoping it didn’t look as conflicted as she felt. “Good morning, handsome.”

“How’d you sleep?”

“Good. You might’ve had a point about spending the night,” she teased as she stretched.

Her alarm went off moments later signaling it was time to get ready. 

“I’ve got to get going,” she murmured sleepily.

“I’m sure Allie’s breakfast will help with that,” he teased. “I’ve got to head out too. I told Leo I’d help him out today.”

With a kiss, they rolled out of their respective sides of the bed and got their morning started. When they walked out of the house together an hour later, Tyler slid a hand around the nape of her neck.

“Have fun today.” His thumb stroked over her skin as he looked into her eyes. “You know you can always call me if you need me, right?”

Her lips kicked up in a grin. “I know.”

“Good.” His murmur ended with him kissing her.

“You’re not staying for breakfast?” she asked when he pulled out his keys to jog to his truck.

“I think it might be better if we don’t shove the boyfriend in Blake’s face,” he said with a wry grin.

“You’re so smart. How did I get so lucky?”

He laughed and winked before ducking into the truck.  Still smiling, Mari took the path leading up to the house to meet Blake and Reese.

The scent of food reached her even before she let herself inside. She stopped just inside the back door to take in the scene in the kitchen. Gage was seated at the island with a coffee mug at his lips. It was a familiar sight over the years, but now his brother sat beside him. Her father. A part of her still had trouble believing it, but there he sat laughing into his own mug. 

Gage was watching her with heavy emotion moving in his eyes. He’d probably noticed her the second she walked in. He lifted his cup in greeting which immediately drew Blake’s attention. His laughter morphed into a genuine grin he made no attempts to hide.

“Good morning, Mari.”

She smiled her greeting as she rounded the table to wrap her arms around Gage’s neck and press a noisy kiss to his cheek. It never got old. 

“Morning, Old Man.”

Gage chuckled. “Well, Blake must be ancient then.”

She hesitated for just a moment before she wrapped her arms around Blake in a similar gesture without the kiss. 

“Morning.”

He grabbed her arm and held on. His voice was husky when he repeated the greeting.

This man cared. There was no faking his emotion and it seemed she was faced with it at every turn. Visibly moved, she straightened just as Raoul entered the room. His smile was gentle.  She took the plate from his hand and leaned in to kiss his cheek. 

“Mornin’, Papa. Please say Allie’s making pancakes.”

“Pancakes are too heavy. Omelets.”

“I mean Allie’s omelets are nothing to turn your nose up at, but her pancakes?” Mari groaned appreciatively as she set the biscuits on the table. “Maybe tomorrow.”

She slid past him to Allison at the stove.

“Morning,” she sang as she grabbed two plated omelets from the counter to set in front of Gage and Blake. 

Her attention went to the empty seat Reese had occupied the day before. “Where is Reese?”

“He’ll be down in a moment,” Blake assured without a direct answer.

Shrugging it off, Mari settled into her chair as Raoul came out with more plates and Allison followed with pitchers of water and juice.

“What’s on the agenda for the day?” Allison asked. 

“Well,” Mari started with a look in Blake’s direction, “I’m assuming I shouldn’t be planning to parade you two around town and introduce you to everyone.”

There was an edge of worry in Blake’s smile. “It would probably be for the best to avoid that this time around.”

“Agreed,” Reese said firmly as he strode to the table. 

He held Mari’s gaze and she found herself wondering just what had delayed him coming down for breakfast.

“Right,” she carried on, “so I figured I could show you guys the caves. They’re pretty cool and there are some really great spots if you know where to go.”

“And of course you know where to go,” Blake said fondly.

Mari beamed as she cut into her omelet. “Of course. It’s a bit of a hike so fuel up.”

~

The journey to the caves was one hilarious trip and became even more so once they started exploring. Mari slowed to take a long sip from her water bottle, fighting not to laugh while Reese taunted Blake about not being able to keep up in his old age. 

If Tyler hadn’t already asked the question, she would’ve wondered if Reese were Blake’s son. The two clearly had a strong friendship despite the difference in age. They’d made her feel included though, not the outsider looking in. It was Reese as much as Blake and while they hadn’t had much to say to each other, she appreciated him making that effort.

Blake fell back into step with Mari, muttering under his breath. She lost her fight with her laughter then, drawing a glare from him.

“Not you too.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her smile was pure innocence until she ruined it by laughing again. 

Blake continued his muttering until easy silence fell between them.

“I’ll have to leave soon,” he said into the quiet.

“How soon?” The question shot out before Mari had a chance to decide if she wanted to ask it.

Reese moved farther up ahead of them, curving around the corner. 

“Within the next day or so.”

For once, Mari bit her tongue against the words eager to snap out. Two, maybe three days he’d given her and that was it. Her mother was gone. Her father was leaving. She knew the anger rising in her was irrational. He’d told her his first day he could only stay for so long. He was going to jump on a plane though, and something in her feared she wouldn’t see him again. She kept putting one foot in front of the other. She’d lived her entire life without him. She could keep doing that without a problem. 

“Mari-”

The words she’d been holding in whipped out as she whirled around to face him. “So? What’s next? You leave and then what?”

“I told you that would be your choice,” he reminded her slowly. “You should take some time and think about that, about what you really want. We don’t have to answer that question right now.”

“I know what I want.  I want more than two days of my life with the man who fathered me! I don’t need to think about that.”

Her words echoed throughout the cave, mocking her loss of control. She would’ve been more embarrassed, but Blake couldn’t quite hide his relief. 

“I need to go home, Marielle. I told you this wasn’t well planned. I want more than two days with my beautiful daughter, but I need that time to be in a way that’s safest for her. That means I need to go home and make plans that give us both the time we want.”

She sucked in a deep breath as she wrestled her emotion back down. He grabbed her shoulders before she could turn away from him. 

“We’re going to stay in touch. This won’t be the last time we see each other. We’re just going to be smart about it. Tell me you believe that, you believe me.”

She met his hard gaze for a long moment before the tension left her shoulders. “I believe you.”

Tension slid out of him too. “We’ll make this work.”

She marveled at the words because, after only two days, she believed him. 

<< Chapter 27 Chapter 29 >>

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