“Yeah,” Troy said, “and he told his quarterback son, who isn’t excited about me joining the team just in time for the playoffs and stepping all over his toes.”
“Ignore him,” Tanner said. “He’s a punk ass. Don’t get drawn in to the drama.”
“Troy? You hear me?”
“Yeah. I gotta go.”
Now both of Tanner’s eyes were twitching. Either he was getting an embolism or he was irritated as shit. Maybe both. He called Elisa.
“He’s out of control,” she answered with. “His grades are slipping. He talks back. He won’t do what I ask. And the principal called today.”
“I know. What did she want?”
“I don’t know. I missed her call too,” she said. “I came back to Lucky Harbor for the sole purpose of getting you to help me, but honestly? I think you need to do more. You need to take custody.”
“Done,” Tanner said.
Elisa paused. “Well, that was easy.”
“Why are you surprised? The day I left the Gulf I asked you for joint custody.”
“You were in the hospital and recovering from a life-threatening accident, remember?”
He wasn’t likely to forget as he’d also been mourning losing Gil. “You said there was no way in hell you’d give him up.”
“That was before your son insinuated to my boyfriend that Dan wasn’t old enough to shave.”
Tanner didn’t say what was on his mind at that—which was that it seemed like a fair question to him as Dan was a decade her junior.
“So you’ll take custody?” Elisa asked.
Tanner frowned. “Why do you keep forgetting to say joint?”
“Wow, that’s convincing.”
“Hey,” she said, her voice angry. “The absentee dad doesn’t get to judge. Now I’m in desperate need of a week off. Are you going to help me or what?”
“Yes,” Tanner said immediately. Hell, yes. “I’ll come get him right now. I can be there in ten minutes.”
“No, he’s grounded. He’s already in his room for the night. I’ll bring him to you tomorrow.”
“Before school,” Tanner said. “The docks. I’ve got a job for him.”
“Ha. Good luck.”
Tanner stared at his phone for a long time after she disconnected and then at his ceiling. He was trying not to take offense at the absentee dad comment, since basically it was true.
But shit, he’d had little choice. Their circumstances had been dire. He’d been seventeen when he’d gotten her pregnant thanks to a bottle of “borrowed” hootch and a technical foul on condom use. He’d been eighteen when Troy had been born. Going into the navy had been the only way to make enough money to support them all.
Elisa had known it. She’d been all for it.
Until Tanner had actually gone, that is, and then suddenly the reality of being alone with a baby had set in. She’d moved to Florida without consulting Tanner, and he’d had little choice but to agree that being with her grandparents was good for both Elisa and Troy while he was away.
Unfortunately, absence hadn’t made the heart grow fonder. That year he’d gotten divorce papers for his birthday delivered to his base.
But that was all in the past. Tanner was a here-and-now kind of guy, and he was going to take what he could get. In this case, it was a second chance with his son—teenage alien or not.
Tanner woke before dawn. Both the military and the rig job had required brutal hours, so it was second nature by now.
He showered and dressed and left his house in the pitch dark, heading to the harbor. Sam arrived at the same time, and so did Mark, Sam’s dad, who worked for them on a part-time basis answering phones, dealing with clients, whatever was needed.
“Troy starts today,” he warned them.
“Oh, boy,” Mark said. “Batten down the hatches.”
“Dad,” Sam said.
“Maybe we should fingerprint him,” Mark said, warming to the subject.
“Dad,” Sam said again.
“Put up nanny cams,” Mark said, grinning, getting into it. His grin faded when he realized neither Sam nor Tanner was smiling. “Too far?”
Sam gave Tanner a look that said I’ll trade you a teen for a dad. “You’ve got this,” he said.
Tanner exhaled. “You think so?”
“Just remember what you were like at fifteen.”
He’d been an ass. “Not helping.”
Sam clapped him on the shoulder. “We’ve got your back.” Then he headed to the warehouse to work on the boat he was building.
“Hey,” Tanner called after him. “How are you going to have my back holed up in the shop?”
“Call me if you need me.”
“But you don’t answer your phone,” Tanner said.
Sam vanished. Tanner sighed and eyed Mark, who was still grinning.
“Now maybe you guys will see that this daddy shit ain’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Mark said.
“This isn’t funny,” Tanner said.
“A little bit it is.” Mark had recently come back into Sam’s life. He was good at handling the office crap that none of them wanted to do, and even better at annoying Sam. But Tanner got that it was important for Mark and Sam to spend some time together—as long as it was supervised. No need to tempt fate and risk Sam going to jail for murder one.