Mari doubled over in laughter with the phone Blake gave her pressed to her ear. Every attempt at talking was quickly ruined by more laughter. Tears streamed down her face.
“She didn’t,” she finally gasped out.
“Oh, she did,” Blake assured her with laughter in his voice. “Miranda loved her pranks. You would have thought I’d get used to it and be suspicious, but she always managed to catch me off guard.”
Mari leaned back into the couch as her laughter faded. “That was priceless. I love that you can tell me stories about her.”
“I’m glad I can share them with you too.” He paused for a moment and she heard the sound of another voice. “I have to go. I’ll talk to you soon, Ri.”
Her smile softened and her eyes slid closed. Her mother often called her “RiRi.” Hearing the shortened “Ri” gave her a piece of that back.
“Talk to you soon, Dad,” she echoed before he hung up.
Reese leaned against the archway to the kitchen with an indulgent smile. “Sounds like you two had a good talk.”
“We did.” Her smile was permanent as she kicked her feet up on the couch and rested her back against the arm. “Is that dinner I smell?”
“It is. Raoul taught me the secret to his steak, so I’m trying it out.”
Mari’s jaw dropped and she jerked upright. “He what? There’s no way he told you.”
“He said he didn’t have a son to pass it on to.”
“He has a daughter!”
“Who is not a son,” he quipped with a teasing smile.
“Say that after you eat.”
“I will because there’s just no way,” she said stubbornly.
Shaking his head in amusement, he retreated to the kitchen.
“Do you need help with anything?”
“No. Use this time to prepare yourself for the shock and acceptance!” he called back.
“I don’t need it because he didn’t tell you the secret!”
A few minutes later, he returned carrying plates. Steak sauce was tucked in the crook of his arm, making her laugh at his determination to do it all. She grabbed it and set it on the coffee table.
“I could have helped.”
“You just did.”
“I swear I’ve gained weight since you’ve been here,” she said. Their fingers brushed as he handed her the plate. Ducking her head, she set the plate on her lap and picked up the silverware. “Not that I’m complaining or anything, but how am I supposed to go back to granola buffets after this?”
He sat down on the opposite end of the couch, his thigh brushing against her feet. “It’ll be a tough adjustment, but I have faith in you. You’ll get through it.”
He chuckled. She cut into the steak and tentatively took a bite. The flavor stunned her. The smug look on his face only added to it. She pressed a hand to her chest.
“C’mon Ellie, what would the queen of the granola buffet do with a supreme steak recipe?”
The name only her family used should have sounded strange coming from him. Instead, it felt like he’d been calling her that all her life.
“She would have made steak once a year to carry on the family tradition, duh!”
“I took the pressure off you to make that sacrifice.”
“Oh, that’s so generous of you.”
She was doing a poor job of fighting her grin when her phone rang. A glance at the screen showed a picture of her and Tyler along with his name. She hesitated before she answered the call.
“Hey, sweetheart. It’s good to hear your voice.”
“It’s good to hear from you too. How are things at home?”
“Things are good. He’s being stubborn, but that’s nothing new.”
“Dads,” Mari lamented in sympathy and saw Reese’s lips twitch.
“Have you talked to yours recently?”
“Yeah, he’s called.”
“Has he given you any indication he’s coming to visit again or having you come to him?”
“No, why?” She peeked at Reese who was scooping food into his mouth with his eyes on the TV.
“Just asking. I may not come right back to the island.”
“Your dad doesn’t wanna let you go, huh?”
Silence filled the line and her smile began to fade.
“Something came up with work,” he admitted after a moment,
Her hand clenched on the phone and she leaned forward to set her plate on the coffee table. The confession on the heels of asking about Blake set off warning bells.
“I thought you were going to see family and coming back.”
“I am, Mari. It was just a question.”
Anger fueled her silence as she walked into her bedroom for privacy.
“It was not just a question. Don’t lie to me.”
“Didn’t I promise I would tell you if something bigger was happening?”
“You also told me you were going home, not using that as a segue into something else so I’m not thinking too highly of your promises right now.”
“Mari, you want answers right? I’m trying to help you get them. I didn’t come out here for this, but I can’t ignore work either. I’m not my own man in this situation.”
She went quiet again.
“You’ve been trusting me,” he reminded her. “I haven’t done anything to break that trust.”
He wouldn’t tell her if he had. “You called in the middle of dinner. I’m going to go finish eating before my food gets cold.”
“Do we have a problem?” he asked quietly.
He hesitated. “I’ll call you back later tonight.”
“Okay,” she said simply and ended the call.
She sat on the bed, staring at the phone. Tyler promised he would let her know if he was taking any serious action. He also warned her he’d do it in a way she couldn’t jeopardize whatever action he planned to take. He lied to her once. There was no guarantee he hadn’t or wouldn’t again.
Blake’s visit and their conversations played in her mind. He cared about her. He left Reese, someone he clearly relied on, with her to ensure her safety. Reese quickly became a friend and shared his own personal experiences to show her the man her father was. She turned the phone over in her hand as her gaze moved to the door. Standing, she sucked in a fortifying breath.
Reese tilted his head back on the couch to look at her when she came out of the room. “Everything okay?”
She paused before softly asking, “Can we take a walk after we finish your supreme steak?”
He studied her then nodded once. “Yeah, we can do that.”
Mari reclaimed her seat and spent the rest of dinner trying to figure out how she was going to tell Reese the truth.