Jolyn walked over to the cash register. “Okay, so how do you work this baby?”
“Oh, come on,” Jolyn said. “You can argue with me, during which time your hottie is getting farther and farther away, or you can give in and let me help you out. And honestly…” She looked around the shop. “It’s a nice place, I’ll give you that. Warm and homey. Sweet. But let’s face it, it’s not exactly my style. Not emo or dark enough.”
Real family. Sometimes I have to really reach for it. But yeah, I do love them. Warts and all. That’s a family, right? She stared at Jolyn. “I’ll be back in one hour. Don’t screw up.”
Jolyn lifted her hands like she was surrendering. “I’ll be an angel. Promise.”
Uh-huh. Olivia didn’t believe that for a second, but she wanted—needed—to believe in something. In family. In love. She needed that as much as she needed to go after Cole.
Olivia hit Lucky Harbor Charters first. The hut was closed, with a sign letting people know that the fall season schedule was now by appointment only, with a phone number listed to call.
Olivia ran down the dock and stopped at the boat moored there, hoping to find Cole on board.
“He’s not here.”
Olivia turned, but saw no one. Then two hands appeared on the dock, and a man propelled himself out of the water, lithely landing on his feet in front of her.
He was in a full wetsuit that delineated his extremely fit body, which was dripping onto the dock. “You were swimming?” she asked. “It’s freezing out.”
He ran a hand over his short, dark hair. His equally dark eyes gave nothing away. “It’s not that bad.”
She eyed the water, which was choppy with at least two-foot swells.
Tanner followed her line of sight and shrugged. “Compared to some of the places I’ve been, it’s downright balmy. And it’s actually calmer around the bend.”
Around the bend had to mean the far end of the harbor, past the bluffs and rocky cliffs into the open water—at least a two-mile swim.
Holy cow. The guy wasn’t even breathing hard. “Do you know where I could find him?”
“I’m guessing in hell,” Tanner said.
“He told you,” she breathed.
“No,” Tanner said. “He’s not speaking to me, either.”
“Then how do you know he’s not speaking to me?” she asked.
“Just guessing by the slightly panicked look on your face. And no, I don’t know where he is, but I saw him just tear out of the lot. Burned some good rubber on his new tires, which is unlike him. He tends to baby his truck.”
“Oh, God.” Weak-kneed, Olivia sat right there on the dock. “I blew this so bad. I thought I was doing the right thing, but it was the right thing for me, not him, and I hurt him. The one person I didn’t want to hurt.” She shook her head. “So stupid.”
Two long legs came into view, and then Tanner crouched in front of her. “Hey,” he said, surprisingly gentle. “Hey, it’s okay.”
“No, it’s not!” She grabbed him by his very broad shoulders and tried to give him a shake.
He didn’t budge.
Instead, he took her hands in his and squeezed. “Tell me what’s going on, Olivia. I’ll help.”
“Why? Why would you help me?”
“Because Cole’s been happier with you around than at any other point in the past two years. Because you two are good for each other. And because you’re looking crazy right now and scaring me a little bit.”
She let out a low laugh and wiped her nose.
“Cole could use a little crazy,” he said. “His sisters notwithstanding.”
She choked out another laugh. “You might not feel that way when I tell you what I did. I lied to him about who I was and where I came from. I lied to everyone here, actually.”
His gaze was empty of judgment. “Why?”
She stared at him and realized that she’d not yet said the truth out loud. “Because Lucky Harbor was a new start for me. I wanted that. I wanted that so badly.”
Tanner frowned. “And Cole didn’t get that?”
“He might have,” she said, “if I’d told him. But he found out from my sister, not me.”
“Ah,” Tanner said. “He’s had a lot of that happen to him lately. He’s a straight shooter, our Cole. You got his back, or you don’t. He doesn’t deal with hidden agendas, subterfuge, or bullshit very well, never has. He doesn’t get it, just isn’t wired for it.”
“Because he’s real,” she whispered.
“Yeah. He is.”
She covered her face. “I can’t believe I’ve screwed up the first real, good thing to ever happen to me.”
“You love him,” Tanner said.
Her heart squeezed.
Tanner pulled her hands from her face and stared her down. “Yes?”
She opened her mouth, then closed it. Her throat closed along with it. Just refused to allow air through.
Tanner’s eyes softened, as did his voice. “You aren’t the only one,” he said quietly.
“I want to make things right,” she said. “I need to make things right.”
“Then do it. He deserves that.” He paused and looked her over. “And maybe you do, too.” A smile curved his lips. “I’m rooting for you.”