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?”
“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.