Reese parked the truck in the yard and killed the engine. Mari fixed tired eyes on the house. The movie helped settle her frazzled nerves, but now she was worried about what they might find in the inside.
“I need to clear the house, but I’m not leaving you here,” Reese said. “Stay right behind me, understand?”
Reese didn’t like that he needed to take her with him, that much was clear. She didn’t like it either, but she liked staying outside alone even less. She nodded obediently.
“Wait until I come around for you.”
Moments later, he opened her door and she climbed out. He guided her up the stairs where he unlocked the door. Staying close enough to mimic his shadow, Mari followed Reese through the living room to the kitchen. Her hand hovered just shy of touching his back as he led her into the bathroom next. She shuffled aside when he came back out, but took up the closeness again as he moved to the bedroom.
“We’re clear,” he told her quietly and led her back to the kitchen and turned on the light. Her shoulders slumped as she dropped onto a stool and stared at the countertop in front of her.
“I need to talk to Raoul and Allie,” she half-whispered. “Word will get around and I don’t want them to be worried.”
“It’s late. We’ll do that in the morning.”
She didn’t have it in her to protest. Instead, she watched blankly while he busied himself at the counter. A few minutes later, he turned and held a mug out to her.
She closed her hands around the mug and let the heat seep into her skin. Hot chocolate. She flashed him a weak smile of gratitude. He waited until she lifted it to her lips for a sip before he pulled out his phone.
“Give me a few minutes.”
She dipped her head and took another drink. He watched her a moment longer before he turned and walked to her bedroom. She waited a few beats before she silently pushed her chair back and crept toward the door he’d left open just a crack.
“Give me a status update on Blake.”
Mari held her breath. It hadn’t crossed her mind someone may have made an attempt on Blake at the same time.
“Good. Stay alert.” There was a moment of silence before Reese spoke again. “No need. I’ll call him now.”
A longer silence followed.
“She’s safe,” were his next words. “When my team is doing their job, you never know there was an attempt. It’s my job to be sure even when I’m not there. I did that. Now I’m calling you and telling you she’s safe.”
He went quiet and then she listened to him detail the attempted kidnapping.
“He threw her into me for a head start. His car was open and running a few feet away. I have the make, model, and license plate. I expect it’ll be found abandoned, but I’ll track it down in the morning. We don’t have the personnel here to secure the airport and there are always boats. He wore a hat low so I don’t have his face, but I have enough to know what to be on alert for on the chance he’s still around.”
There was silence as Blake spoke.
“Her movements have been varied, even with her work schedule. We were out for a movie and going wasn’t a secret.”
She jumped, hot chocolate nearly sloshing over the rim of her cup at the sharpness of the word.
“That’s not smart and you know it,” Reese continued. “Don’t make me waste time detailing why.”
More silence from Reese and Mari eased closer to the door. She was dying to hear what Blake was saying.
“That would put a larger target on her back and confirm she’s important. If you won’t stay for you, stay for her.”
That much was easy to make sense of at least. Blake wanted to come back for her. That knowledge warmed her more than the cup in her hand.
“She’ll see the wisdom of that. You would’ve been proud of her. She fought back and handled the aftermath well. She was shaken, but she didn’t give anything away about you or why I’m really here.”
She blinked in shock even as more warmth flooded her. Reese was good at what he did. His praise for how she’d handled the night was more than just empty words.
“Mari. Come talk to Blake.”
He hadn’t raised his voice like he would’ve needed to if she were still in the kitchen. She hesitated and when she finally entered the room, he lifted a brow knowingly. Of course, he’d known she was listening.
“I’m okay,” she said as she accepted the phone. “Really.”
Blake exhaled hard in her ear.
“I can be there in a few hours.”
She grimaced. Reese was absolutely not on board with that plan. “Umm, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Reese’s jaw tightened and she knew he’d guessed what Blake had offered.
“Really, Blake. I’m okay. It just scared me more than anything. I’m not even hurt. Reese was perfect, even when I panicked.”
“This is exactly what I didn’t want for you,” Blake said in a voice heavy with regret. “We’ll find out who he is and who might be aware of who you are.”
“Then you’re doing what I need you to do.”
“That’s all, huh?”
“Well, I’m thinking Reese is probably going to stay longer, which would be good. So, if you let him do that, then yeah. That’s all.”
“I want you safe,” he grumbled with all of his frustration audible.
Mari watched Reese watching her. “I am. You made sure of that before you left by leaving Reese here and if I wasn’t sure of it before, I am now. Take a deep breath and relax.”
The sound of him inhaling deeply surprised a soft smile out of her. “I’m fine,” she repeated. “I’m also exhausted so it would be good to get some sleep. Do you need to talk to Reese again?”
“Yes. Let him do his job so I don’t have to worry myself into an early grave.”
“I am completely okay with him doing his job,” she assured. “Um, is someone doing his job for you?”
There was a soft exhalation. “Yes, I’m fine.”
“Okay. Good. Here’s Reese.”
“Night,” she echoed softly and held the phone out for Reese.
While he was finishing the conversation, Mari retreated to the bathroom for a shower. The hot water helped wash away the griminess she felt lingering on her from the man’s hold. She could almost feel his arm around her waist. Shuddering, she forced her eyes open and drew in a deep breath. She washed and rinsed a few more times than necessary, but finally stepped from under the spray of water to towel off and dress.
Reese turned away from his laptop when she came out.
“I’m fine,” she said automatically.
His silence called her a liar.
“Is Blake going to stay put?”
“Good. There’s nothing he can do and I’m okay. I don’t want to be the reason he starts making stupid mistakes. Do you think maybe that’s what they wanted?”
“The intent was to take you tonight.”
Gone was the man who had learned their native dances and enjoyed hollowing out a pineapple for his drink. The man before her now was a bodyguard, plain and simple.
“The rules change now. You aren’t out of my sight at any time we’re in public. Stay away from windows. Avoid public restrooms. You won’t be more than an arm’s length away at any given moment when we’re out.”
He didn’t lay it out gently or ask for her agreement. His words were orders he expected would be followed without argument or hesitation and he gave them with the ease of a man who was used to others bowing out to him.
“What are we going to tell everyone?” she asked softly.
“We’re not going to tell them anything. You handled it well, but they could tell you were shaken up. It’ll be understandable I want you close. Keep it simple,” he said as he had when this all first started.
“The house is secured. All doors and windows are locked. I’ll secure the bathroom now that you’re out. Don’t unlock anything without letting me know.” He stood, picking up the laptop. “Are you going to be able to get to sleep?”
She nodded without thinking. He studied her for a moment before he moved past her into the bathroom. She trudged to the bed and collapsed onto it.
All she wanted was to fall asleep and forget the night had even happened.