“He’s staying at the house with Raoul and Allie?”
Tyler had shown up with food in tow not long after Reese had left. He claimed he wanted to feed her a home-cooked meal after a long day, but she suspected it had more to do with her hanging up on him.
He seemed calm enough about her news Reese would be staying behind for a few days, but it didn’t take a genius to anticipate how poorly he was going to take the news of exactly where Reese would be staying. She rolled her shoulders as she drew in a breath.
“Actually he’s staying with me.”
Tyler stopped stirring. The spoon clanged against the pot as he turned to face her fully. She tried to shrug casually.
“It’s just for a few days and I have a decent couch.”
“Why is he staying here, Mari?”
“Just to keep an eye on me for a little while. That’s all. You know, make sure nobody tries to use me to get to Blake,” she said pointedly.
There wasn’t a single trace of shame in his expression. “And he has to stay here? They’re staying with Raoul and Allie now. He can keep staying there.”
Mari folded her arms across her chest. “This is what you wanted, isn’t it? You wanted Blake to care about me so you could use that. Well, he cares enough to leave somebody behind for a few days. Get over it.”
“That doesn’t mean he needs to sleep here.”
“How is he supposed to be here for me over there?”
“It’s not exactly across the island, Marielle,” he growled. “Why are you so eager to have him stay here?”
Mari stared at him with her mouth open before she gathered herself, anger sweeping in over the disbelief. “Are you serious? Think about why you’re here, Tyler! He’s already said he has enemies and the vibe I’m getting is that they wouldn’t think twice about using me. You’re using me. So excuse me if I’m okay with having somebody here to help make sure nobody else gets to, especially if they’d plan on doing it by hurting me.”
He held his glare for a moment longer before he sighed and held his arms out. “C’mere.”
“No. Finish dinner. I’m hungry.”
He caught her by the arms and gently tugged her into him. She didn’t unfold her arms or soften her stance at all.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured against her temple. “I just don’t like the idea of him here with you. I’m a little jealous. Take it easy on me, please?”
“Jealous about what?” she grumbled to his chest with her arms still folded. “I don’t even know the guy and he’s not interested in me. He’s doing a job.”
“A man would have to be dumb and blind not to be interested.” He pressed a kiss to her head. “I get that you’re scared. This is scary. I wouldn’t let anything happen to you.” He leaned back and angled her away so he could look at her face. “You know that, don’t you?”
She stared at his forehead. “Your attention is divided.”
He gripped her chin, demanding her focus. “It’s never that divided. I have a job to do, but I care about you. Your safety is important to me. Blake can leave whoever he wants, but I’ll be seeing to your safety.”
Her arms slowly dropped to her sides. His thumb stroked over her bottom lip.
“I heard what you said. You gave me an in I needed to Blake, yes. I can’t deny that. But I am not using you.”
The emphasis on his words softened her further.
“I know it’s hard to separate what I have to do from our relationship, but I need you to do that. I care about you in a way I’ve never cared about another woman in my life,” he confessed on a whisper. “I want you clear of all of this so we can focus on building us, making this permanent.”
Her eyes rounded as she echoed, “Permanent?”
“Permanent,” he confirmed and sealed the word with a deep kiss. “You don’t need to say anything now,” he said when he lifted his head. “I just want you to know where I’m going with this, with us.”
Still in shock, she nodded weakly. His smile widened and he stroked over her bottom lip again.
“Have you thought about getting your dad a gift? Something to mark your first time meeting him, that reminds him of you when he’s not here?”
Her eyes lit up. “That’s a really cute idea. It hadn’t crossed my mind, but I think I will pick up something before he leaves.”
“I have good ideas every now and then. I don’t want to have them too often or you might start expecting things from me.”
With a quick kiss to her forehead, he turned back to the stove. “Now stop being distracting and let me get you fed.”
Instead of backing off, she wrapped her arms around him and leaned into his back with her chin propped on his shoulder.
“I know this hasn’t been easy. I haven’t been easy. Thanks for sticking with me through this.”
He laid a hand over hers and squeezed. “Trust me, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.”
Content, she held on for a moment longer before she pulled away to get drinks from the fridge. It was after Tyler had bowled soup for both of them and they’d settled at the table that she felt something vibrate. Tyler grabbed his phone and glanced at the screen before lifting it to his ear.
“Hey, man. What’s up? You’re interrupting dinner with my favorite lady,” he said with a wink at Mari.
She rolled her eyes, but the smile was there.
He frowned, moving the phone away from his mouth. “Sorry, give me a minute to take this call, sweetheart. Go ahead and eat.”
She nodded, watching him retreat into her bedroom to finish his conversation. It was all too easy to wonder who was on the other line, what the call was about. He had a job to do, she reminded herself. He wasn’t supposed to have shared about that job either. He would need to check in and get updates. Secretive calls were a part of that. She’d decided to trust him. She needed to do that.
No sooner than she came to that conclusion, he was walking back out of the bedroom.
“Everything okay?” she couldn’t resist asking.
His crooked smile curved his lips. “Yeah, everything is just fine.”
She mirrored his smile. Yes, things were fine.