The lights were off. Candlelight danced over the wine bottle on the small table set up in the living room. Soft music floated from a speaker. Mari tipped her head back to smile at Tyler.
“This is a very good start,” she murmured appreciatively.
“I’m glad you agree.” Setting her bag down on the couch, he took her hand and escorted her to the table. “I’m finishing up dinner. In the meantime, I want you to sit down and relax.”
“I can keep you company in the kitchen.”
He shook his head. “I want you to get relaxed.”
Once she was seated, he poured a glass of wine. No sooner than she accepted it, he knelt before her. She watched in surprise as he removed her shoes. He set them off to the side and straightened again.
“Relax,” he repeated with a kiss to her forehead.
“You’re making it very hard not to.”
He flashed his crooked grin and walked away. Mari relaxed into the chair and sipped at the wine with a small smile. Tyler had gone through a lot of effort in a short amount of time. He was often thoughtful, but this was especially romantic. She hummed along to the music gracing her ears. The lighting, the wine, and the music combined for a seductive lull that stole any tension or stress.
When Tyler returned to the living room with plates in hand, she made to rise and help him. A perfectly arched brow dissuaded her of that notion. She leaned back in the chair and watched him set the plates on the table.
“You’re having trouble with relaxing, I see.”
“I’m really not. Or at least I wasn’t until you came back in,” she teased.
He settled in across from her and topped off her glass. She beamed at him and dug into her plate with gusto. Music wafted between them while they ate and Mari shared her day.
It wasn’t until her third glass was emptied and her plate nearly cleared that Tyler grew serious.
“We said we were going to clear the air about this situation with Blake. I want to do that so we can enjoy the rest of our night together.”
“I like that idea.”
“Right now, we’re just monitoring him. I know this is new to you, but a lot of things like this are mostly hurry-up-and-wait. We have to watch, collect information. That takes time. You hesitated to agree to this, but we’ve been rebuilding trust. You were willing to follow my lead and now that’s changed.”
He held up a hand when she started to interject. “I get meeting him and spending time with him changed things for you. No matter what we find out, he’s your father. You feel guilty don’t you?” he prodded gently.
She ducked her head and focused on scooping together the last of her rice. “Like you said, he’s my father. If he’s… If you’re right, then there needs to be justice. It’s just playing a part in it myself while he thinks we’re just getting to know each other…”
“I get it,” he repeated. “Why don’t we make a deal? Before I do anything with the information I learn, I’ll share it with you. That way you can relax and not worry something will sneak up on you.”
Her mouth twisted in a slight frown. “You’d really tell me?”
He reached across the table to cover one of her hands with his. “I would because I don’t want to jeopardize us. But I need you to understand that when I do tell you, it’ll be at a time and in a way you can’t share that information. Not because I don’t trust you, but because I have to do my job and I really shouldn’t be telling you anything.”
Turning her hand over in his, she laced their fingers together. “Deal.”
His smile was blinding, hidden only when he lifted their hands to his lips for a kiss. “Good, now that’s enough of that. Do you know how bad Leo messed with me when I asked for this recipe?”
Mari dropped her head as her laughter spilled free.
“The things I do for you, woman.”
“I promise I’m properly appreciative.”
“Are you?” he asked teasingly as he pushed back from the table. He offered his hand to her. “Prove it.”
Grinning, she took his hand and let him pull her into his chest. He slid an arm around her to press gently into her back. With her cheek pressed against his shoulder, she let her eyes close. She loved the way he held her in the sway of their dance.
A delicious shiver ran through her as he caressed her back. He untangled one hand from hers and his fingers brushed her jaw. She lifted her head and met his hungry gaze. She didn’t wait. Rising on the tips of her toes, she took his mouth in a hard kiss. His groan sent a thrill racing through her. She cupped his neck and deepened the kiss. He yanked her tight against him, taking over. Minutes later, he was backing her toward the bedroom to finish their night.