The rising sun cast only the slightest of lights across the rocky trail as Mari climbed. Even as ingrained as the trek was, she took her time. She knew how quickly the familiar rocks could turn treacherous. She had enough scratches and bruises to remind her. Reaching the end, she extended her arms to get a solid grip on the rocks and pulled herself up the rocky face of the overhang.
She drew her legs up and crawled to the back of the wall. Resting her back there, she settled. She closed her eyes and deeply inhaled the scent of the ocean. It was her secret place, combining her favorite things: the ocean, hiking, and nature. Up here she could clear her head enough to sort through her own thoughts.
Gage and Raoul’s words repeated themselves over and over in her head. She wanted to rage, to cry, and a small part of her wanted to pretend like Tyler had never told her anything. Whatever she chose to do now though, that reflected on her. Not Tyler. Not Raoul. Not Gage. Her.
Miranda Drake had loved Sakina. Even as a child, Mari knew that. Yet Blake Mason had been able to draw her away for years and she had died a woman still in love with him. It spoke volumes.
Still, if Tyler was to be believed there was a strong possibility he was tied up in a myriad of illegal activities. It could very well be the reason why everyone was convinced he loved her but chose to send her and her mother here. For their safety.
There was no guarantee he was the same man her mother once loved. Both Gage and Raoul had made it clear if she wanted the story, she’d have to hear it from Blake. She tugged the hair at the nape of her neck. She’d wanted the answers for years, but to come face to face with a man who had only ever been a figment of her imagination…
Feet slipping on rocks and whispered curses reached her ears. She didn’t open her eyes. No one came up here or knew how to find the place but her. And Julia and Rylee. They only intruded when they were worried.
“How’d you know I was here?” she asked when Leilani grabbed hold of the bottom of the overhang and dragged herself inside.
“I got a call from Tyler,” Julia said coming up right behind her. Mari stiffened but Julia pressed on. “He said you headed out pretty early and could use a friend.”
For him to know that he’d have to be close and watching. So much for space. She guessed she should be glad he sent them instead of coming after her himself.
“We tried to wait for you to come to us,” Leilani added softly. “We were worried about you climbing up here if your head was cluttered. Things with Tyler-”
Mari blew out a harsh breath. “Tyler is the least of my concerns right now.” That was only partly true but still.
“Talk to us,” Julia encouraged, sitting down next to her with Leilani doing the same on the other side.
She was silent for several minutes, trying to figure out how much to share. It sucked being evasive with the women who were family to her, but she needed to be careful until she had a better handle on what was going on. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, Tyler’s warning to silence stuck with her.
“I told you a while back Raoul was worried about me wanting to find my father. Turns out he was worried because he knows who he is.”
Leilani’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “But I thought only your mom knew?”
“Turns out that wasn’t true.”
“So you know who he is,” Julia prompted.
“What are you thinking?”
Mari leaned her head back against the rocks again and pressed the palms of her hands to her eyes. “That’s why I’m up here. I don’t know.”
“Why isn’t he here?” Julia wanted to know and Mari smiled weakly at the anger on her behalf. This was where things got tricky.
“I haven’t gotten the full story yet, but it’s been implied it was for safety. If I want the story, I have to get it from him.”
Leilani squeaked in sympathy. “That’s…I get why you’ve been so quiet. That’s a lot to process and all of a sudden too.”
She leaned over and covered one of Mari’s hands with her own, squeezing gently. Mari turned her head and smiled in her direction.
“Do you want to meet him?” she asked.
Mari shrugged. “Yes. No. I don’t know. What’s the point after all these years?”
“You’ve always had questions. If nothing else, you could get some answers. Maybe some closure? And I’m sure he has things about your mom he could tell you.”
“He does want to meet you, right?” Julia prompted when she didn’t speak.
“That’s the way Raoul makes it sound.”
“He’s always been protective of you,” Julia said thoughtfully. “If he’s willing to put you in contact he has to believe that beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
No one said anything for several moments. Mari leaned forward and braced her elbows on her knees, her hands sliding through her hair.
“I can’t really say no. Not without looking like a childish brat. My mom loved him. Till the day she died, she loved him. Never gave another man a chance. There had to be something there worth that commitment, right? If for no other reason I feel like I should do it for her.”
“What about for you? Your mom isn’t here anymore. What do you want?”
Mari’s groan followed that question. She dropped her head and breathed in. Julia’s firm hand rested on her back.
“Later, when it’s not so fresh, it would kill me not to know,” Mari admitted to her knees. “I’d be mad at myself for not finding out the truth or at least hearing his version of it.”
“That’s a better answer. You’ve got this, Mari. Hands down, you’re one of the bravest and strongest women I know. You can handle this. And you know if you want us there all you have to do is give the word.”
“I know.” She whispered the words and they weren’t just a platitude. Even before Miranda’s death the three girls were inseparable. Her death only drew them closer. They were her sisters in every way that mattered.
Julia patted her back and then she felt Leilani’s arms wrap tightly around her.
“Love you too.”
“Don’t think too hard. Call if you need us.”
Mari laughed softly. “I’ll do my best. Thanks guys.”
“Always,” they returned simultaneously.
Moments later she heard their footsteps fade as they started back down. A smile touched her lips although she didn’t lift her head. They knew her too well. She gave herself another half hour, enjoying the sea breeze and letting her mind settle on the decision she made.
When she started back down the beach she was far calmer than she was heading up. She still bypassed the main house. She made the decision but they could wait a little longer to hear it. Instead she crossed to the estate from the side and went straight for her place.
She saw them the moment it came into view. The yard was filled with multi-colored pinwheels. She tried to fight the smile even though no one was there to see it. Apparently Tyler decided her time was up.
She bent down and drew her fingers along a few of the pinwheels. There, with her heart aching and her mind torn, she made a decision. Tyler wanted Blake Mason. She wanted answers. If Tyler found something…well, Blake had made his own bed.