“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.”
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.
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.”
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.”