Posts tagged “Stranger

Chasing Truth: Chapter 23

Posted on 28/11/2014

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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 >>

Chasing Truth: Chapter 11

Posted on 29/08/2014

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            Mari and Keon fell into an easy rhythm even before they hit the trail. She drove while Keon filled them in on some of the history of the island and the sites they were passing. The men were quiet for the most part but the tallest one, Damon, had a few questions about the jungle that bordered almost every part of the town and then the caves off of the beach.

She took the lead on the trail with two of the men and Keon followed up with the other two. She hit her stride easily. Her concern faded, confidence boosting knowing Keonhad her back if she needed it.

She set a strong pace as they began the climb up.

“So Ms. Mari, how long have you lived on this island?”

Damon walked up beside her and easily kept pace as they hiked up the steep trail. He was never too far from her.

“Just Mari will do. And pretty much my whole life. I was raised here.”

“Makes sense. A lot of people assured us you were the best guide, that you knew this entire place like it was a personal playground. Apparently to tour with anyone else is only a shadow of what it is with you.”

She laughed. “That might be a little exaggerated, but I’ve explored a lot.”

“What about your parents? Do they still live here?”

The question was easy, casual. Small talk. In fact, Damon had done nothing to unnerve or bother her since they left the shop. Maybe she overreacted. Maybe her radar was a little off.

“My mother passed away, but my dad lives here.”

“That’s tough. You look like you made the best of it.”

She shrugged. “We tried. What about you? What drew you to our little island?”

He didn’t hesitate, his eyes falling to her. “The sights. I’ve been told they’re second to none and I’m beginning to believe it. Although, I should’ve guessed a beautiful woman like yourself would be taken.”

She smiled politely at that and recalled Tyler’s visit. There had been no doubt after that she was seeing someone. That was probably part of the reason he’d been so affectionate. Not that he wasn’t usually affectionate anyway.

“You’re too sweet.”

“Have you been with him long?”

“Long enough.”

“That’s a classic answer for not long.” Damon said it with an easy laugh and pushed a tree branch out of the way for her. “I’m sorry he beat me to you. He’s a very lucky man.”

“Thank you. I’ll make sure to remind him of that tonight.”

His laughter boomed then. “Yes, a very lucky man. You make sure he takes good care of you.”

“He already does,” she assured with a grin as she ducked under a tree limb and wound around the curving path.

By the time they finished the hike all Mari’s trepidation was gone. Damon was all laughter and charm until she was convinced she misread him earlier. His childhood wasn’t as pretty as hers. He was raised in a less than stellar neighborhood and she had the feeling there were a lot of fights in his past. He glossed over it all, but it gave her enough for a good picture. Maybe that explained the edge that put her guard up and she relaxed with that knowledge.

Allison was manning the desk when they returned to the shop. Mari and Keon handed out bottles of water while she assisted the customers browsing the selection.

Damon took a long drink and smiled at her. “We might stick around for a little while. If we do, we’ll definitely be interested in another tour.”

“We’ll be here,” she promised.

“Good. I’ll want you to be our guide.”

“I’d enjoy that, but even if I’m not available, any of our guides can give you more than your money’s worth.”

A quick look out the window showed Tyler pulling into the parking lot and she wasn’t surprised at all. She looked to Keon who waved her on.

“I’ve got another tour in an hour. I’ll close out with Allie.”

She nodded and Damon and his friends followed her out of the door. Tyler was already out of the truck. He strode toward her with purpose, slipping an arm around Mari’s waist and kissing her full on the mouth.

“Hey baby. Did you have a good time?”

“I did. They were an interesting group.”

Damon approached with a broad grin on his face.

“Tyler, this is Damon. Damon, meet Tyler.”

“Hey man, this woman here is amazing. You don’t know how lucky you are to have someone as sweet as this one.”

Tyler held her closer and his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Oh I know exactly how lucky I am. She’s my good luck charm.”

Damon laughed at that and offered his hand. “Good man.”

Tyler hesitated and Mari frowned as the two men locked eyes. Tension coated the moment. Tyler slapped his hand into Damon’s and shook it without letting go of her.

“Glad you got your money’s worth. How long are you and your friends enjoying our island?”

“I certainly did and it’s made me give some thought to sticking around for a little bit. We’ve still got some vacation time. Thanks for the good time, sweetheart. I’ll see you around.”

She smiled and waved as Damon slipped a hand into his pocket and walked off whistling. Tyler stared after him for a long minute and what she called his “security face” fell into place. She gently tugged his arm.

“Come on. I’m starving. I had to save the plate you brought me for lunch tomorrow.”

He stared for a moment longer, but let her pull him to the truck. It was going to be an interesting night if the look in his eyes was any indication.

 << Chapter 10 || Chapter 12 >>

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