Mari woke up with Tyler’s arm wrapped around her waist and her cheek to his chest. She drew in a deep breath, inhaling the clean scent of him in the darkness. Tilting her head back she studied his soft sleeping features. He was a handsome man. His crooked smile always teased one from her. She could look into his hazel eyes all day.
She hadn’t lied to him. She wanted to trust him, was trying to do that. He was giving her reason to as time went on. They’d started on a lie, though, and she couldn’t forget that no matter how much she wanted to. She really did want to. It would make everything so much easier.
He stirred, his hand tightening on her hip as he blinked away sleep. A slow grin crossed his face as he shifted his head to look down at her.
“Good morning, gorgeous.”
She didn’t fight the answering smile, hoping it didn’t look as conflicted as she felt. “Good morning, handsome.”
“How’d you sleep?”
“Good. You might’ve had a point about spending the night,” she teased as she stretched.
Her alarm went off moments later signaling it was time to get ready.
“I’ve got to get going,” she murmured sleepily.
“I’m sure Allie’s breakfast will help with that,” he teased. “I’ve got to head out too. I told Leo I’d help him out today.”
With a kiss, they rolled out of their respective sides of the bed and got their morning started. When they walked out of the house together an hour later, Tyler slid a hand around the nape of her neck.
“Have fun today.” His thumb stroked over her skin as he looked into her eyes. “You know you can always call me if you need me, right?”
Her lips kicked up in a grin. “I know.”
“Good.” His murmur ended with him kissing her.
“You’re not staying for breakfast?” she asked when he pulled out his keys to jog to his truck.
“I think it might be better if we don’t shove the boyfriend in Blake’s face,” he said with a wry grin.
“You’re so smart. How did I get so lucky?”
He laughed and winked before ducking into the truck. Still smiling, Mari took the path leading up to the house to meet Blake and Reese.
The scent of food reached her even before she let herself inside. She stopped just inside the back door to take in the scene in the kitchen. Gage was seated at the island with a coffee mug at his lips. It was a familiar sight over the years, but now his brother sat beside him. Her father. A part of her still had trouble believing it, but there he sat laughing into his own mug.
Gage was watching her with heavy emotion moving in his eyes. He’d probably noticed her the second she walked in. He lifted his cup in greeting which immediately drew Blake’s attention. His laughter morphed into a genuine grin he made no attempts to hide.
“Good morning, Mari.”
She smiled her greeting as she rounded the table to wrap her arms around Gage’s neck and press a noisy kiss to his cheek. It never got old.
“Morning, Old Man.”
Gage chuckled. “Well, Blake must be ancient then.”
She hesitated for just a moment before she wrapped her arms around Blake in a similar gesture without the kiss.
He grabbed her arm and held on. His voice was husky when he repeated the greeting.
This man cared. There was no faking his emotion and it seemed she was faced with it at every turn. Visibly moved, she straightened just as Raoul entered the room. His smile was gentle. She took the plate from his hand and leaned in to kiss his cheek.
“Mornin’, Papa. Please say Allie’s making pancakes.”
“Pancakes are too heavy. Omelets.”
“I mean Allie’s omelets are nothing to turn your nose up at, but her pancakes?” Mari groaned appreciatively as she set the biscuits on the table. “Maybe tomorrow.”
She slid past him to Allison at the stove.
“Morning,” she sang as she grabbed two plated omelets from the counter to set in front of Gage and Blake.
Her attention went to the empty seat Reese had occupied the day before. “Where is Reese?”
“He’ll be down in a moment,” Blake assured without a direct answer.
Shrugging it off, Mari settled into her chair as Raoul came out with more plates and Allison followed with pitchers of water and juice.
“What’s on the agenda for the day?” Allison asked.
“Well,” Mari started with a look in Blake’s direction, “I’m assuming I shouldn’t be planning to parade you two around town and introduce you to everyone.”
There was an edge of worry in Blake’s smile. “It would probably be for the best to avoid that this time around.”
“Agreed,” Reese said firmly as he strode to the table.
He held Mari’s gaze and she found herself wondering just what had delayed him coming down for breakfast.
“Right,” she carried on, “so I figured I could show you guys the caves. They’re pretty cool and there are some really great spots if you know where to go.”
“And of course you know where to go,” Blake said fondly.
Mari beamed as she cut into her omelet. “Of course. It’s a bit of a hike so fuel up.”
The journey to the caves was one hilarious trip and became even more so once they started exploring. Mari slowed to take a long sip from her water bottle, fighting not to laugh while Reese taunted Blake about not being able to keep up in his old age.
If Tyler hadn’t already asked the question, she would’ve wondered if Reese were Blake’s son. The two clearly had a strong friendship despite the difference in age. They’d made her feel included though, not the outsider looking in. It was Reese as much as Blake and while they hadn’t had much to say to each other, she appreciated him making that effort.
Blake fell back into step with Mari, muttering under his breath. She lost her fight with her laughter then, drawing a glare from him.
“Not you too.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her smile was pure innocence until she ruined it by laughing again.
Blake continued his muttering until easy silence fell between them.
“I’ll have to leave soon,” he said into the quiet.
“How soon?” The question shot out before Mari had a chance to decide if she wanted to ask it.
Reese moved farther up ahead of them, curving around the corner.
“Within the next day or so.”
For once, Mari bit her tongue against the words eager to snap out. Two, maybe three days he’d given her and that was it. Her mother was gone. Her father was leaving. She knew the anger rising in her was irrational. He’d told her his first day he could only stay for so long. He was going to jump on a plane though, and something in her feared she wouldn’t see him again. She kept putting one foot in front of the other. She’d lived her entire life without him. She could keep doing that without a problem.
The words she’d been holding in whipped out as she whirled around to face him. “So? What’s next? You leave and then what?”
“I told you that would be your choice,” he reminded her slowly. “You should take some time and think about that, about what you really want. We don’t have to answer that question right now.”
“I know what I want. I want more than two days of my life with the man who fathered me! I don’t need to think about that.”
Her words echoed throughout the cave, mocking her loss of control. She would’ve been more embarrassed, but Blake couldn’t quite hide his relief.
“I need to go home, Marielle. I told you this wasn’t well planned. I want more than two days with my beautiful daughter, but I need that time to be in a way that’s safest for her. That means I need to go home and make plans that give us both the time we want.”
She sucked in a deep breath as she wrestled her emotion back down. He grabbed her shoulders before she could turn away from him.
“We’re going to stay in touch. This won’t be the last time we see each other. We’re just going to be smart about it. Tell me you believe that, you believe me.”
She met his hard gaze for a long moment before the tension left her shoulders. “I believe you.”
Tension slid out of him too. “We’ll make this work.”
She marveled at the words because, after only two days, she believed him.