Posts tagged “stories

Chasing Truth: Chapter 27

Posted on 20/12/2019

The rest of the afternoon passed with everyone telling Blake and Reese stories from Mari’s childhood. When evening gave way to night and more than one mouth yawned, Tyler and Mari finally got to their feet to call it a night. 

“I need some rest. You do too. We’re hittin’ it bright and early tomorrow,” Mari warned Blake and Reese even though she found herself oddly reluctant to end the night. 

“We’ll be ready,” Blake promised.

“Does breakfast at seven work?” Allison offered.

Mari nodded as Tyler slipped an arm around her waist. “That’s perfect. I’ll see you guys in the morning.”

There was a chorus of goodnights as Tyler and Mari walked out of the house. They took their time walking down the path leading to the guesthouse. The faint sounds of the night and the gentle glow of the moon were relaxing, peaceful. Mari let out a soft sigh. 

“Long day for you,” Tyler acknowledged. “Big day.”

“Both,” she agreed quietly. 

She was mentally and physically exhausted. Falling into bed and passing out would be a gift, but she had a feeling she’d spend a lot of time replaying the day before she finally found sleep. 

“You handled it with grace.” 

He squeezed her gently and she let her head touch his shoulder for a moment, absorbing his compliment and presence. 

“Thank you. It wasn’t easy. But I’m glad I’m doing it.”

“That’s good. I don’t want you to have regrets.”

They ducked under the wisps of the willow. Tyler let his arm fall from around her waist, but caught her hand as he approached his truck parked in front. He opened the door and reached inside. A second later he straightened with a bag in hand. Mari raised a brow. 

“I’m staying the night,” he confirmed as he closed the door and took her hand again. 

“Because of him?” 

The words were more challenging than she intended, but she didn’t take them back in the face of his frown.

“Because my girl had a big day. I want her to rest easy and she tends to do that when she sleeps in my arms.”

Her frown mirrored his because he wasn’t wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d spent the night and she did sleep well when he was with her. Maybe him staying would keep her from obsessing over every single detail from the day. 

She sighed and followed him up to the house where he opened the door and led the way inside. She gently undid her bun and massaged her fingers into the thick curls while Tyler dropped his bag on the chair.

“I can hear you thinking,” he teased with a smile. “Talk to me. What did you think?”

“I…I don’t know.” Mari lifted her shoulders in a half-hearted shrug. “I mean he seems like he cares, which was unexpected. I know Raoul all but said he did. Even you said it, but to see it was just…surprising. He didn’t really share much about his life. Not that I expected him to. I mean we’re strangers. The most I got was it’s dangerous and it’s not something he can walk away from.”

“It’s a place to start. You guys have time to get to know each other.”

“You’re right. I know you’re right. It really wasn’t a bad first meeting. Part of me just can’t believe the day really happened.”

“What did he tell you about Reese?”

“That he’s a friend.”

“That’s it?”

“He said they’ve been friends for a long time,” she added. “It’s not like he’s just going to tell me all of his secrets.”

He tapped his chin and nodded so she left it at that. Something just didn’t sit right about telling him Reese was Blake’s bodyguard. He was probably already guessing that anyway. 

 “It’s been a little hard,” she admitted. “I have to focus on not thinking about what you told me while I’m talking to him, on not asking questions I shouldn’t know to ask.”

“C’mere,” he encouraged gently.

She rolled her neck as she walked over to him. He rubbed a thumb over her cheek. 

“I wish you didn’t know. I don’t want what I have to do to make this harder for you and I know it’s easier said than done, but try to focus just on getting to know him.”

“I am trying. What exactly is your plan anyway? Because I can’t really picture him deciding to do a shipment from here or whatever else you’re trying to catch him in the middle of. What are you going to find? And how are you going to find anything?”

“That’s not for you to worry about.”

Her back straightened as she cocked a brow. “Oh really? So now that he’s in reach, none of this is any of my business? Is that right?”

 “You know that’s not what I meant. It’s also not what I said.” He took her hands and tugged her to him. “This is stressful for you and I’m asking for a lot. I get that. I don’t want to add any more to it than I absolutely have to. So when I say it’s not for you to worry about, I mean I want you to focus on what this means to and for you while I worry about the other stuff and what I need to do. If I learn something that means things will change for you, I’ll make sure I bring you in on that. But I don’t want this coming between us any more than it already has. Okay?”

She frowned up at him. It was so easy to believe he was genuine. His words. The concern in his eyes. She wanted to be smart, to stay on her guard, but this was beyond anything she’d ever dealt with. She was so out of her element.

“I want to trust you.”

He tightened his arms around her. “Then trust me, Mari. I promise you won’t regret it.”

She laid her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around him. She didn’t speak for long moments, weighing what he was asking from her. He wanted her trust about a father she’d only just met, was just now getting the chance to know. He wanted her trust knowing it might not mean good things for Blake in the future. Shouldn’t she be glad about that if Blake turned out to be the man Tyler was concerned he might be? Didn’t she want justice for those he’d harmed if it was true? If he was innocent, they lost nothing. If he was innocent there was no risk. 

“Okay,” came her whispered response.

He stroked her back as his lips pressed into her hair. “Thank you, beautiful.”

They stood like that in silence for a few moments as she soaked up his affection.

“C’mon,” he encouraged softly as he pulled back to look at her. “Get ready for bed so you can get some rest. You’ve got a full day ahead of you tomorrow.”

She nodded and went to change clothes. The light was off when she came out of the bathroom. He’d flipped the covers back and was lying on the side closest to the door. She crawled over him then cuddled against him as he drew the covers over them. She tipped her head up and he kissed her soundly as they settled in.

“Night.”

“Goodnight,” she echoed.

She laid her head on his chest, wishing it were as easy to lay her doubts to rest.

<< Chasing Truth: Chapter 26 Chasing Truth: Chapter 28 >>

Chasing Truth: Chapter 26

Posted on 13/12/2019

Gage’s gaze flicked over Tyler’s head when Blake and Mari walked closer. Tyler spun around. His glare softened and he left the porch to join her, ignoring Blake and Gage both. He came straight to her, his hands cupping her cheeks as he pressed his forehead to hers.

“How are you holding up?” he asked gently.

Her eyes closed against her will. He had an agenda. His focus was Blake. Except right now it wasn’t. Right now, it was her and in that moment she found it hard to keep reminding herself he was using her.

“Not bad,” she answered just as softly. “It went better than I thought it would.”

“That’s good, sweetheart. Really good.”

She opened her eyes to look into his. 

“I didn’t know you were coming,” she murmured for his ears alone.

“I wasn’t sure how you’d feel after you spent some time with him. I wanted to be here in case you needed me,” he returned.

She wanted to believe that and a part of her did. The other part whispered he was only playing the role he’d chosen before he ever met her. He lifted his head to press a kiss to her forehead before his hands dropped from her face. A second later he caught one of her hands in his.

“You want to introduce me to your father?”

In all honesty, Mari’s answer to the question would have been no, but it wasn’t a true question. Squeezing Tyler’s hand, she turned to Blake. 

“Blake, this is my boyfriend, Tyler. Tyler…this is my father, Blake.”

The warm man she’d started getting to know over the course of the morning had disappeared. In his place was a cool distant one. Tyler offered his hand with a faint smile.

“It’s good we’re getting to meet you.”

Blake took the offered hand and shook it briefly before letting go. 

“Tyler,” he returned noncommittally.

Mari bit the inside of her cheek and looked at the ground as awkward silence fell.

“Gage? Let everyone in, why don’t you?” Allison suggested from inside the house. “We can be civilized and have lunch.”

Gage snorted, but he stepped out of the doorway and back into the house. Blake followed him inside, leaving Mari and Tyler alone for a moment.

“Well. That went great,” Mari muttered.

“Most dads don’t like their daughter’s boyfriend,” Tyler said without a hint of discomfort. “Hey, it’s going to be fine. Let’s have lunch and get to know him.”

“I’m not so sure about him and Raoul sitting down together either,” Mari admitted in a mumble while she shuffled obediently behind him. 

Tyler didn’t let go of her hand as they went in. Everyone had found a seat around the table, including the man from earlier that morning, Reese. Tyler pulled out her chair for her before claiming the one beside her. 

There was more silence as Allison and Raoul brought salad and fish to the table. 

“I don’t think we were introduced,” Tyler said to Reese as he reached over the table to offer his hand. “I’m Tyler, Mari’s boyfriend.”

“Reese,” he said simply with a short handshake before his attention returned to the food at the center of the table. 

“Are you her brother?”

Mari bobbledd the salad bowl, dropping it back down on the table. Her eyes shot to Reese and bounced to Blake. She hadn’t even considered that. 

“No, I’m not Mari’s brother.” 

The calm matter of fact way he said it left no doubt in Mari’s mind he was telling the truth. She relaxed and picked up the bowl to add salad to her plate. 

“Sorry, Sweetheart,” Tyler said with a smile at her. “I didn’t mean to catch anyone off guard, but can you blame a man for being curious?” He looked back at Reese. “You and Blake must be pretty close for you to come with him to meet his daughter for the first time.”

“We are,” was Reese’s simple answer.

Neither he or Blake elaborated.

“I didn’t mean any offense, just trying to understand everything that’s happening here,” Tyler assured as he prepared his own plate. “This is a lot for Mari and I might think of some things that she doesn’t.” He shrugged his shoulder and accepted the bowl from Mari. 

Reese’s focus slid to her then. “Somehow I think Mari has it under control.”

A smile tugged at her lips and she ducked her head to hide it.

“Mari manages to get a lot of things under control,” Gage echoed and there was enough of a smile in his voice that Mari’s head jerked back up.

She stabbed her fork in his direction. “Whatever it is you’re thinking of saying, don’t you dare.”

“What’s a reunion without some stories? You didn’t tell Blake about the time you and Jules staged your mutiny?”

“I was only eleven! And I never said I started it!”

Raoul was all too happy to pick up the tale. “Mari was grounded, you see,” he told Blake after he swallowed a bite of fish. “No playtime with the girls, no guide trips. School and home. Looking back, I’m not sure if her punishments were worse for me or for her,” he murmured with a smile. 

“I had a tour late one afternoon so she stayed after school until I could come pick her up. There was a little clubhouse some of us had built for the kids. By the time I got to the school to get Mari, the three musketeers had about six of their classmates and they were all barricaded inside.”

“What?” Blake asked laughing and forking more salad. 

“We called for them to come out. They had something pushed up against the door. What was it?” Raoul asked looking at Mari.

“It may or may not have been an old log,” Mari muttered to her plate. “We all sat on it and leaned on the door.”

Reese choked on his food, unable to hold in his laugh.

“Oh, it gets better,” Gage promised.

 “They’d all brought snacks and water bottles. They were prepared to wait us out, you understand. Because they weren’t coming out until I agreed to take Mari off punishment and let her go to the dance that Friday.”

Blake threw his head back as laughter shook his body. 

“It was the last dance of the year!” Mari exclaimed in her defense.

Her words only drew more laughter from the table. 

“What happened?” Reese prompted Raoul.

“Oh, they were serious. Other parents started arriving to pick up their kids and they were still inside.”

“I can still hear Yuri now. ‘Raoul, that girl of yours is a bad influence. Get her under control’,” Mari mimicked with a laugh.

“Eventually I had to give in. I told them if they came out I’d see about letting Mari go to the dance. Of course that wasn’t good enough. The little rascal yelled through the door I had to promise I’d let her go before anybody came out.”

“So did you get to go to the dance?” Tyler asked her.

“Yes,” Mari grinned. “But guess who was a chaperone?”

The entire table burst into laughter. Even Reese chuckled. Tyler rested his arm on the back of her chair and leaned in.

“Wow, I always knew you were a tough one, but you’re a little manipulator too?” He teased.

“Hey! You’re supposed to be on my side.”

“Ellie could sell a shell to a crab,” Gage said fondly. 

“Did she tell you about the festival?” Allison asked as she poured a glass of water.

Blake glanced at Mari. “No, she didn’t.”

“We had other things to talk about,” Mari mumbled.

Allison launched right in over Mari’s words. “We have a festival here each year that’s a celebration of all the unique talents here on the island.”

“I heard of it,” Tyler said. “It’s a pretty big deal around here. Different arts, food, music, you name it.” 

“She started it when she was 16,” Allison said proudly.

Tyler’s head whipped around. “What? You?”

“We were bored.” She shrugged and took a drink. “I said something to one of our teachers about how there was never much for us to do and she told me if I was that bored I should plan something myself. She definitely didn’t think I would or that it would turn into what it did. It was mostly meant to shut me up.”

“Though why she thought she’d ever accomplish that, the world will never know,” Allison teased.

Mari smiled back at her. “Clearly it was a lost cause. Keon and his friends had a decent band back then. Joe could be talked into providing food in exchange for our labor on a busy night. A lot of people around here have talent they like to show when they have a chance. The first year it was really nothing more than a high school hangout night. Janey let us use her patio seating and we set some stuff up on the beach too.”

She cut up her fish with a smile. “We started doing it every few months or so, but then Mateo asked if his son could come play. Then Cheyenne insisted she wasn’t too old to come out and sing. More people started saying they wanted to come do something. So we just picked a day and said that’s when everyone could come. That next year somebody reminded us we’d done it and asked if we were going to do it again. So we did. Every year it just kept getting bigger.”

“She still plans it,” Raoul added. “Even when she was away in school, she got the logistics down for it.”

“It’s always a good time and these days pretty much the whole island comes out so it’s a good opportunity to spend time with everyone.”

“Modest,” Reese noted with a smile. “If that’s what you could do as a bored teen, I’m worried about what you can manage as a grown woman.”

“Ahh, see what you started Gage? You’re going to scare them off.”

“Come on now, there were plenty of other stories we could have told. I could have told Keon’s favorite story.”

“Okay! Okay!” Mari laughed and shook her head as she stuffed her mouth with her last bit of food.

“Well now I have to know who Keon is and his favorite story,” Blake said as if it were law.

“Gage, you are a menace,” Mari groaned.

“Keon Greco,” Raoul filled him in. “Mari’s honorary older brother. Mari was always convinced there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do. One of the island boys was teasing the girls, saying none of them could swim to the sandbar.”

“Oh boy,” Blake murmured with a knowing smile. 

“Exactly. So ten-year-old Mari gets it in her head that she’s the girl that’s going to make him eat his words. She gets, oh I don’t know, about maybe halfway out by the time somebody comes to get me. By the time I get down to the beach, Keon’s got an arm around her and is bringing her back to shore.”

It was amusing now, but at the time Raoul had been filled with fear. 

“I just got a little tired,” she said defensively. “I was catching my breath. Nobody told Keon to come play lifeguard.”

Blake’s laugh shook his body. “Just a little tired?”

“That’s what I said.” She couldn’t fight her smile though. “And if you meet Keon he will tell you that story at least five times. It’s his claim to fame around here.”

“I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear I had to go down to the school a couple of days later because she and the same boy got into it,” Raoul finished off.

“Not surprised at all.” Blake’s gaze was warm on her. “Fierce about your pride?”

“No,” she denied at the same time Raoul, Gage, and Allison all agreed.

More laughter spread around the table. 

“She kept an old man young. I never knew what each day would bring, but I knew she’d manage to make me laugh somehow.”

“We certainly had our hands full with her,” Allison agreed affectionately. “Even by the time I came around, she was still a little firecracker. Never a dull moment.”

“I appreciate the two of you gave her an environment where she felt safe to be that way,” Blake said. There were still traces of amusement on his face, but his eyes were serious as he spoke to Raoul and Allison. 

Mari’s breath caught. She couldn’t deny she’d been worried about how Blake and Raoul would get along. To hear Blake thank him…something in her melted. The silence that fell around the table this time was a comfortable one. 

“I heard you do a lot of the tours here on the island,” Reese said to Mari a few moments later.

Her face lit up. “Yeah, it keeps me active and busy. I’ve been doing it since I was young. This place is gorgeous and there’s nothing like getting paid to show it off. The boss isn’t too bad either,” she said with a grin at Raoul.

“Maybe you could take Blake and I out tomorrow and show us around?”

“I’d like that,” Blake chimed in. “A chance to see you doing what you enjoy.”

She beamed at them. “That would be fun. Let’s do it.”

Blake’s expression softened as he watched her. “Good. Now let’s hear some more stories.”

<< Chapter 25 Chapter 27>>

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