Reese was sitting on the couch with his eyes on the TV when Mari let herself back into the house. He glanced at her before turning back to the game. She settled into the armchair, trying to think of the best way to approach him about her newfound plans. There was no good way to start, especially since she was certain his default response would be to deny her. She blew out a quiet breath.
“Why don’t you just say what’s on your mind?” Reese asked the TV.
She wasn’t going to get a clearer opening than that. Gathering what bits she’d already pieced together in her head, she launched in.
“I need some one-on-one time with Tyler. No babysitter. We’ll stay inside at his place. That way there’s no danger, no exposure.”
He didn’t look away from the TV, not even when she fell quiet.
“Was that your idea or Tyler’s suggestion?” he asked finally.
“Does it matter? I want to spend some time with him.”
He nodded like he had the answer to his question. “Has he told you what his problem is with me?”
“I already told you. He gets jealous.”
“From the moment he realized I wasn’t your brother? You don’t see that as extreme in any way?”
“What are you getting at, Reese?”
“I just asked a question.”
“He didn’t have a problem from the moment he found out you weren’t my brother. He had a problem when Blake left and you stayed. Wouldn’t you if you were in the same situation? A man neither you or your girlfriend know is all of a sudden staying with her?”
“It started sooner than that, Mari. If you think back, you’ll see that. Have him come back over here and I’ll give you privacy like earlier. Problem solved.”
She considered countering his words, but getting him to agree to her evening plans was more important than the issue between him and Tyler. “He’s already setting things up at his place.”
Not to mention changing the plan now would be a clear sign to Tyler that Reese was interfering. She didn’t want that headache.
“I’ll be leaving in a few days. Can it wait until then?”
“Not really.” She needed to hear what Tyler had been up to when it came to Blake.
“Another night at least then.”
“Okay, I’ll put it like this. I’m not asking. You’re here to protect me and that’s great. I appreciate it, even if you haven’t actually had to protect me from anything. I don’t need protection from Tyler, so we’re going to enjoy a quiet night alone. Tonight. You get the night off. I’ll call Blake for you if that makes it easier, but this is happening.”
His head turned then and, if she wasn’t mistaken, there was just a hint of amusement in his eyes.
“You really need that time alone, do you?”
She folded her arms across her chest, trying to keep a leash on her rising annoyance. “Yeah, and I could use some space from you too.”
His face didn’t change. Neither did his tone. “Do we have a problem?”
She almost wished he would’ve snapped at her or gotten upset. His even-keeled response made her feel guilty. He’d been easy to get along with, even amusing to talk to. Her arms dropped.
“No. I didn’t mean that. What I really meant was I could use some time that feels normal, when I can forget that my biological father felt the need to leave a man here with me for my safety. I can do that alone at Tyler’s.”
“I can understand that,” he allowed. “The fact Blake felt that need is why I’m reiterating it’s only a few more days and asking you to wait.”
“We haven’t had any issues, Reese. No one has even looked at me funny. I’m not saying go home early. I’m asking you to let me have a normal night.”
He leaned back without a word. She wanted to push, but there wasn’t much left to say she hadn’t already pointed out.
“I’ll take you.”
“Just-” Mari pressed her lips together as his agreement sank in. He was saying yes!
“That works,” she said as she unfolded herself from the chair. “I’ll be ready to go in about 30 minutes.”
She showered quickly and hastily packed a bag. She didn’t think Reese would change his mind, but she didn’t want to risk it either. She slid her feet into a pair of sandals and threw the bag over her shoulder.
Reese stood at the window with his hands in his pockets. His head turned at her entrance.
“Is your gun in that bag?”
She blinked hard. “Umm…no.”
“I’d feel better if you took it with you. Just a simple precaution.”
She hadn’t expected him to give in at all. If he wanted her to take the gun with her, she would, even though she wouldn’t need it. She retreated to her bedroom without protest and removed her gun from its case.
He preceded her out of the house and waited for her to get into the truck before getting in on the driver’s side. They rode in silence. For the first time, it felt awkward. Mari struggled to fill it, but couldn’t find the right words, so she settled back in her seat and watched the scenery. Occasionally she’d give some direction until they turned onto Tyler’s street. Reese pulled into the yard she directed him to, putting the truck in park.
“You have my number on that phone?”
She nodded as she lifted her bag from the floor. “Tyler can take me to work in the morning. I’ll meet you there.”
“I’ll pick you up here.”
“That works too,” she agreed easily. Her hand gripped the door handle before she hesitated and turned back. “I promise we won’t go anywhere. I know this isn’t easy for you. Thanks for agreeing.”
His only acknowledgment was his nod. Mari accepted that and opened her door. Tyler was standing in his front door when she hopped out of the truck. With a quick wave to Reese, she strolled around the hood toward Tyler. She waited for the smart remark about Reese dropping her off. It never came. Tyler took her bag from her fingers, leaning in to kiss her firmly.
“Come in. I’ve got a great night planned for us,” he promised against her lips as he took her hand and guided her inside.