Following the tracker he ended up standing in front of his own restaurant. He laughed out loud only then remembering his conversation with Susan the day before.
“God works in mysterious ways.” He chuckled, shaking his head.
As he walked in Melody ran up to him hugging his legs tightly, “Uncle Mark!”
“Hey there Mel. How’s it going.” He said as he looked around to see Isabel gaping at him from across the room. He looked away pretending not to notice.
“Fine but mom wants to do my hair.” Melody groaned.
“Come on, it’s not a root canal.” Susan said, rolling her eyes. She walked up and wrapped her arms around Mark’s neck. “You’re playing hookie.”
“I figured I could take a day off early, technically I have four weeks to use up.” Mark shrugged glancing over at Isabel again, she suddenly looked terrified.
When Isabel first saw Mark all she could see was how different he looked in the light. Little details like the black stubble on his face and golden flecks in his almost black eyes made him even more stunning.
Then reality hit and Isabel watched in horror as the man who had seen her the night before walked in and hugged the bosses daughter before proceeding to hug the boss herself.
He hadn’t just seen her mask, he had seen her weak and vulnerable. He had seen the bruises and knew she didn’t even have a home. He didn’t just see the mask he saw the real Isabel.
Now he was going to tell her boss that she was worthless. She was going to lose her job and any hope of a somewhat normal life here.
Worse than that, what if the word somehow got back to Andrey. He would kill her and Elia.
Elia huddled closer to Isabel as Mark, Susan and Melody sat in the booth across from them.
“Izzy, this is my brother Mark. I told you we have co-ownership of this place.” Susan said as she started brushing Melody’s hair, oblivious to the panicked expression on Isabel’s face.
Great, Isabel thought, so he can just fire me himself.
“We met.” Mark smiled kindly.
“Oh good.” Susan muttered not paying much attention.
Glancing down he saw Elia’s small trembling form buried in her mother’s arm.
“I’m sorry, she’s shy around…” Isabel faltered, biting her lip. “Some people.”
Mark nodded his mind automatically realizing what Isabel meant was men. This four year old girl had already learned to fear men. He suddenly felt sick.
“Hi Elly!” Melody squealed as Susan finished wrangling her bright blonde hair into a ponytail.
“It’s Elia,” Elia said quietly, “Like Eliot without the ‘t’.”
“That’s a beautiful name, I haven’t heard it before.” Mark was careful to keep his voice quiet and gentle.
He sat still and didn’t stare at her unnecessarily. He had been trained to handle this sort of anxiety, it was second nature.
Elia peeked out from under her mother’s arm. “Thank you.”
Isabel stared at him with an expression between fear, confusion, and awe.
Just then Tony walked up to the table with five plates of pancakes.
Isabel bit her lip. She knew it would be rude to refuse and she was so hungry, but she couldn’t afford this. She had to be able to find an apartment.
“Employee discount, it’s free.” Mark smiled at her, “The joys of owning a business.”
Isabel forced a smile in return and took a tentative bite. After that she had to fight not to eat too fast. Elia on the other hand ate her portion hungrily.
“Elia, are you going to play with me while your mom works today?” Melody asked excitedly.
Elia nodded nervously.
“We are going to the park first. Can you come?” Mel asked, jumping up and down in her seat. Next to her Susan chuckled.
“Mommy can we?” Elia asked, excitement raising the volume of her voice a fraction before she looked at Mark to see if she had made him mad.
Mark pretended not to notice.
“Oh hunny, we have to find a place to stay, remember?” Isabel responded, glancing again at Mark.
He wondered what she was expecting, she seemed relieved it didn’t come.
“Where have you been staying?” Susan asked, frowning.
Isabel froze mentally kicking herself for speaking before thinking again.
“I’m renting out the apartment above my garage. It’s not much but it’s available.” Mark jumped in, saving Isabel from having to respond.
“Oh I…” Isabel had to stop herself from saying no.
She knew she had to find a place today, and really she was in no position to be picky.
However the idea of living so close to this unknown man terrified her. She reminded herself that she would have neighbors anyway, and at least Mark didn’t seem like he would be a threat to them.
“I could only put a hundred down before my first check.” She said awkwardly.
“That would be fine.” Mark said, not wanting her to feel like a charity case even though he felt terrible taking any of her money. “I can give you a ride to and from work too. Susan is always saying I need to invest more time here anyway.”
“No, we can walk.” Isabel said quickly. “I don’t even have a car seat.”
Mark and Susan exchanged a concerned glance. They both saw how thin she was. She really shouldn’t be walking around all day until she was healthier.
Only now did it hit Isabel that these two, while looking like polar opposites, really were brother and sister. Their expressions mirrored each other, and they seemed to be communicating nonverbally.
“Melody's spare is in your car right? They are pretty close to the same size and Mark you could adjust it smaller if need be.” Susan smiled with a shrug.
“It’s too far to walk. If you’re done eating I could take you there and you could get settled in before work.” Mark stated as if it was a done deal.
Mark held his breath for a long minute as Isabel thought over her options. When she finally did respond she seemed less than convinced.
“Well okay…” Isabel relented fidgeting with Elias’ dark blonde curls.