Posts tagged “Present

Chasing Truth: Chapter 24

Posted on 05/12/2014


Mari didn’t know what to say. Her biological father was finally in front of her and the questions that had clamored around in her head for years suddenly went quiet. She floundered, searching for something to ease them into conversation. Her mind kept coming up blank.

“Let’s walk the beach.”

She glanced up at him, surprised by the suggestion.

“I didn’t visit, but I kept up with you. I don’t want this to be any harder than it already is and if being on the beach will make it easier, I don’t have a problem with sand in my shoes.”

That was how Mari found herself dragging her feet through the sands of the shore with her father walking alongside her. He surprised her once more when he’d followed her example and taken his shoes off before they started to walk. She lifted her face to the sky, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply. He was right. Being out on the beach made it easier. She opened her eyes.

“So I’m guessing there’s a reason you have a live shadow.”

There were a million more important questions on her mind, but they had time to get to those. This didn’t stick in her throat and make her second guess herself.

Blake’s head jerked up and he gave her a startled smile as he kicked at the sand. She smirked.

“Yeah, good friend or not, Reese has a look to him. He’s your bodyguard, isn’t he?”

“What I said was truth. Over the years Reese has become a very good friend, but yes he watches my back too. There’s more than one reason for that.” He blew out a harsh breath.

“Would I need to get a shadow myself?”

He laughed softly and amazement was clear on his face. “I wasn’t going to say much about Reese because he’s part of a complex situation. It crossed my mind you would be afraid and probably want less to do with me than you already do. Yet here you are, and the first thing you’re asking me is what steps you might need to take. You are every inch Miranda’s daughter.”

His voice went jagged. “She was so fearless. She’d jump right in and figure it out as she went. And she always figured it out. There wasn’t a single thing that could stop her when she set her mind on something.”

Mari rubbed her finger at the corner of her eye. This man had known the woman she’d loved more than life itself, the woman who’d left a huge hole in her life when she died.

“Did you love her?”

“With everything I had in me,” was his immediate answer.

“Then why did you leave her? Leave us?”

He stopped without warning. His eyes didn’t waver in their focus on her when she stopped and turned to look at him.

“There are things I can’t tell you for your safety and mine. That’s not something I’m saying to avoid hard questions. That’s the unfortunate truth. But I’ll give you every answer I can, as much information as I can.”

“Let’s start with that.”

“I didn’t leave her. Miranda and I made a decision together to do what was best for you and her. It wasn’t one we liked, but it was one we could live with given our situation and we’d planned for it to be temporary. We agreed to stage our breakup and say you weren’t mine. She came back here to stay  until our situation was under control. It kept her out of sight and gave no one any reason to believe she or you could be used against me.”

His jaw clenched.

“What was the situation?” Mari’s press for answers was quiet, but she needed to know.

“That’s an answer I can’t give you. We made a plan for what we knew. We didn’t expect the situation to change the way it did and we had to make another choice. That choice meant she and you stayed here longer. She sent me pictures of you, stories of the things you were getting into, any little piece of your life she could get to me. She did that, gave me you and her in every way she could, until the day she died.”

“And when she died? When both of my parents were gone?” she demanded, furious with the tears stinging her eyes.

She could still remember the days of numbness and then the days of utter despair that followed as she tried to grasp the notion her mother was never coming back. If it hadn’t been for her uncle, she would’ve lost it. Blake reached out for her, but dropped his hand when she shook her head. She swallowed hard and forced the tears under control.

“When she died I thought about coming back for you. I wanted to come back for you. But the reason we made our decision hadn’t changed. It wasn’t safe for you to be connected to me. Hear me. That wouldn’t have mattered if you didn’t have anyone. I would’ve come and I would’ve made it work, but I knew Raoul. I knew how close you were to him and I knew he would take care of and protect you like his own. So instead of uprooting your entire world, taking you away to live with me when you had no clue who I was and putting you in danger, I left you to his care. That wasn’t an easy choice to make for me, but I had to put your safety above my wanting to have you with me.”

She stared at him, searching for any signs of insincerity. She couldn’t find any. Her mother hadn’t lied. Raoul hadn’t lied. Whether or not she could deal with his decision to stay away, this was a man who cared. She lowered herself down into the sand and stretched her legs out, letting the water lap at her feet. He waited a beat longer before he sat down beside her.

“You won’t tell me what the situation was, a situation that has somehow managed to last my entire life, so how am I supposed to know if what you’re telling me is the truth or a convenient excuse?”

He didn’t answer immediately.

“You don’t. You only know what I’m telling you. Whatever Raoul may have told you. And if you don’t know, that man would lay down his life for you. I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t allowed it. You’ll have to decide what you believe and who you trust. If I could change that, I would. I would’ve changed everything. I can’t do that. I can only do what I’m doing now.”

Silence fell and Mari didn’t rush to fill it. Tyler’s speculations were first and foremost in her mind. If he were involved in the things Tyler suspected then it would explain the danger and his secrecy. It would also explain why it hadn’t ended. People didn’t just walk away from running criminal enterprises.

“You’re here now,” she pointed out.

“I’m here now. And nothing has changed. It’s still dangerous. I took every step possible to hide this trip from anyone who might take notice, but that’s not a guarantee.”

“Then what makes now different?”

“You. And Raoul. He couldn’t lie to you when you asked as directly as you did, not as an adult. And I’ll admit I’m being selfish. You asking Raoul gave me the excuse I needed to see my daughter in person for the first time in over a decade. I couldn’t justify it based on my own need, but I could based on yours.”

She drew a mindless pattern in the sand.

“So now what? Explain to me how this is supposed to work. We have this little meeting, you leave in a day or two and…I just go back to pretending you don’t exist?”

He scratched at the back of his head and wet his lips. “I’ll be honest with you. I’m here with no plan. No next steps. When I found out you’d asked…I just started making the plans I needed to get here. This is the first blind move I’ve made in years, but I thought you deserved this much since you know about me. I figured we could sit down and figure it out from here together. Miranda and I made choices you were far too young to make. You’re an adult now and it’s time to let you make your own choices.”

When she’d started down this path, she hadn’t truly considered the weight of the choices she would have to make.

“You couldn’t just walk away? From whatever it is? You can’t do that now?”

He leaned forward with his elbows propped up on his knees and stared at her. “If I could’ve I would’ve done it the second you were born, but it would’ve meant the three of us spent the rest of our lives on the run and likely ended them in brutal deaths. I didn’t want that for my girls. We made a different choice. Some days I regret that choice. I know there were days she did too, but we have to live with the results.”

His entire chest lifted and fell with the force of his sigh. “What’s been started isn’t something I can walk away from. If I could, even with her gone, I would. You have to know I’d do that for you. It’s just not an option. I know that’s hard to accept without knowing everything, but I’m asking you to believe me when I say that.” He paused, rubbing at his chest. “What happens from here on out is up to you. If you want more time, for us to try to figure this out, then I’ll make that happen. If you don’t want anything beyond today…” He trailed off, turning his head to stare out at the water. “I’ll accept that and I’ll make that happen too.”


<< Chapter 23 || Chapter 25 >>

Chasing Truth: Chapter 23

Posted on 28/11/2014


She couldn’t sleep. All night Mari tossed and turned in an attempt to get comfortable and find sleep. The sheets were a tangled mess around her. The pillow had been bunched up, flattened out, and then bunched up again to no avail. She rolled onto her back and glanced at the blue digits to her left. 4:00. In less than eight hours she would come face to face with Blake Mason for the first time she could remember. As promised, she’d called Tyler after Gage’s visit and told him when Blake would arrive. Unease was her silent partner when she made the call and not for the first time she wondered if she was making the right decision keeping Tyler’s secret.

She blew out a harsh breath and reached behind the clock. Her hand came up against the square picture frame and she pulled it in, holding it above her face. She’d memorized the features long ago; natural coily brown hair, warm brown eyes, and a smile that engaged her entire face.

She always thought her mother beautiful. To grow up and hear others remark on how much she looked like Miranda was the world’s greatest compliment to a girl who missed her mother more than anything. She traced a finger over Miranda’s face in the picture. There was unadulterated joy on her face as she wrapped her arms around a young Mari and squeezed tight, the two of them laughing into the camera.

Mari shoved the covers off of her and climbed out of the bed. She was already moving toward the door as she tugged on a pair of jeans and reached for a long-sleeved shirt. In minutes she was walking out into the dark of the morning. She considered sitting out by the water or up at the overhang, but her feet didn’t hesitate to find that old familiar path winding up the hill.

She didn’t stop to breathe in the ocean or admire the view. She leaned the picture frame up against the headstone before she lowered herself on the ground beside the grave and propped her chin up on her arms. She lied there in silence for several minutes just staring at the picture. Gradually some of the starch left her shoulders thanks to the video loop of memories with her mother in her head; the two of them building sandcastles together, lying on their stomachs in front of pinwheels and blowing on them when the wind was still, and just the sweet sound of Miranda’s laughter.

She rarely ever talked about Blake. Young Mari had questions about her absent father Miranda answered vaguely. Then she was gone before Mari was old enough to know the right questions to ask. Still, there was one thing she said about him more than anything else. “He is a good man, Mari. A very good man who loved you.”

“I don’t know about the love thing and I don’t know if he’s still a good man, Mama. I am going to meet him. I already gave my word on that and it’s too late to go back. I just hope he’s still the man you fell in love with and not the man Tyler thinks he is.”

She freed a hand to tuck strands back away from her face. “I worry about that too, if I made the right decision or not agreeing to let him dig around. I feel like I’m stuck in the middle trying to make decisions with not even half of the information. I’m walking blind here.”

As usual there was no response, but something in her eased at sharing her concern.

“It’s hard trying to figure all of this out…I wish you were here.”

She kept the picture within view but rested her cheek against her arms. The sounds of the night were a quiet reassurance compared to the silence of her bedroom and the next thing she knew, she was waking up to the sun warming her face and the kiss of the sea breeze.

She blinked sleepily and lifted her head just as Gage climbed up the hill. She dropped her head back down and watched him reach the top. His eyes touched on the picture by the headstone before they came back to rest on her.

“We’ve been looking for you. Did you spend the night out here?”

“No, just a few hours. I couldn’t sleep.”

“Neither could he I’ve heard.”

She wasn’t sure what to do with that bit of knowledge so she let it lie and pulled herself into a sitting position.

“What time is it?”

He squatted down beside her. His dark eyes searched hers and she knew he would see far more than she wanted him to.

“A little after nine.”

She combed her fingers through the wild strands of hair and ducked her head. “I need to go shower and stuff.”

He cupped the back of her neck until she lifted her head to look at him.

“He already loves you.”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t need to shower.”

He laughed and sat all the way down, pulling her into him as he did. She went willingly and wrapped her arm around him as she leaned in.

“I just want him to be the man Mama was crazy about.”

“Everyone changes over time. I think losing you and Miranda would have done something to him. It would have changed him, changed anybody. But when it comes down to it, who we are at our core is who we are. And I think your mother knew your father’s core better than anyone.”

“He didn’t ‘lose’ us. He left us. There’s a difference.”

Gage just hugged her close. “You’ll find out the truth from him soon enough.” With a kiss to the top of her head and a pat to her hip, he encouraged her to let it rest. “Come on, time to get moving.”

Only a few short hours later she was pacing the length of her living room. Blake would arrive any minute now. She’d asked to meet him at home alone rather than at the house with everyone else. Raoul hesitated over the request, but bowed out to her wishes. He, Gage, and Allison left her to the guesthouse by herself. Nerves tap-danced in her stomach while she fought to think of something other than Blake’s impending arrival.

A soft but firm knock against the door penetrated the silence. She froze in the middle of her circuit. The lack of anyone calling out to announce his or her presence confirmed it could only be one person. She swallowed hard and scrubbed her hands over her thighs before she stepped to the door. Another deep breath and she pulled it open.

Two men stood on her porch, but it was the man directly in front of her who stole and kept her attention. He was taller than her; not tall enough to make her neck ache but there was an inch or two difference. He wore his black hair shorn close to his head.

She was her mother’s mini-me, but as she stared at the man before her she saw him in her too. It was in the height of his deep brown cheekbones and slant and color of his hazel eyes; eyes that were hungrily taking her in.

“You look just like her,” Blake breathed and the emotion touching his eyes nearly broke her. “I always told her you would.”

No matter who Blake was or what he’d done, he’d loved Miranda Drake. It was in his voice and his eyes. She didn’t know what to say to his words. Her hand tightened on the doorknob and she fought to find some calm.

“I get that a lot.” She tore her eyes from him to wander over the man witnessing their awkward reunion.

Stubble coated the rich brown-bronze of his jaw and chin. His amber brown eyes took in everything from her to the house to Blake in mere seconds. He commanded every inch of his height, which only seemed to emphasize the three or four he had over her. He carried the weight of fine muscles like a man who knew how to use them to his advantage. Her heart tripped. He had the same edge about him she saw in Tyler. His speculations about Blake’s activities came back to mind.

“This is Reese,” Blake introduced them when he caught the direction of her gaze. “He’s a very good friend of mine.”

Mari didn’t look away from Reese. Her mind was supplying her with a myriad of different meanings for friend. “Mari, but you probably know that.”

He nodded and she pulled her attention back to Blake. “Is he going to be our audience while we stumble through this?”

His answering smile was pained. “No, he’s going to go with your family. They said you wanted us to be alone.”

I nodded.

“Anyone else in the house?” Reese asked reclaiming her attention.

She arched a brow and stepped back to open the door wider. “You want to search?”

There was the start of a smile near the corners of his lips. “Your word is good enough for now.”

She didn’t miss the “for now”, but it was hard to fight a faint smile of her own. “Then there’s no one here.”

He nodded and looked to Blake. “Call when you’re done.”

Blake barely nodded before Reese turned and jogged down the stairs to walk to the main house. She watched him go, sucking in another breath before she met Blake’s eyes and let go of the door. He took the invitation for what it was. She could’ve sworn she heard him draw in a deep breath of his own before he stepped inside, shutting the door behind him.


<< Chapter 22 || Chapter 24 >>

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