He thought she was sweet and warm.
Don’t get excited, a little voice inside her warned. He also thought you were cute. Like a puppy. And he doesn’t remember who you are. “I earned the cynicism,” she said.
“Someone break your heart?”
He didn’t say this with a mocking inflection. Nor did he sound like he was pitying her. She looked into his eyes—those hot-as-hell eyes—and saw that he was just genuinely curious. Which was the only reason she answered him. “Yes, actually,” she said. “But it was my own fault.”
His voice was low and a bit morning gruff, and she found herself staring at his mouth. “That’s a little bit personal, don’t you think?” she asked, her own voice low, too, but not because it was morning.
It was more because he was turning her on with little to no effort.
He leaned in and smiled. “You don’t want to get personal with me?”
Her breath caught. Her pulse skipped another beat. Or a hundred. And there were other reactions, too, things that really shouldn’t be happening in public. But once upon a time she’d dreamed about him wanting her. She’d even gone as far as to send him a secret Valentine, one of those anonymous lollypops with a heart that you paid a dollar to the student body fund for and then it was delivered to the recipient’s homeroom class in front of everyone.
Except Callie hadn’t sent hers anonymously. She’d signed her name.
And he’d never said a word about it.
And suddenly that bugged the crap out of her. Love sucked. Romance sucked. And even if that hadn’t been true, there was no way she was going to admit her failures out loud to a guy she didn’t really know. She shook her head. No, she didn’t want to get personal.
“You really don’t believe in love?” he asked.
Did he think she was just being coy? “Let’s just say that I know that love isn’t enough,” she said. “And I’m not interested in it. Not for myself.” She knew this without a shadow of a doubt. After all, she’d had the perfect guy and the perfect life, and had planned the huge wedding to celebrate it—and it’d ended with her heart crushed.
Nope. Love was not enough. Not by a long shot.
Tanner startled her by running a finger along her temple, tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. “A definite cynic,” he said softly, meeting her gaze. “I like it.”
“Not exactly a romantic myself,” he said, and leaned back. “And no disrespect to your work, but I think love was something made up by Hallmark for Valentine’s Day and…well, wedding websites.”
She laughed. Touché. “So I guess you think Valentine’s Day cards are pretty dumb, too. Even if, say, you got one from a girl who had a crush on you.” She held her breath for a beat, and then someone bumped into him from behind and the moment was broken.
The cute brunette who’d done the bumping sent a big smile Tanner’s way. “Sorry,” she said breathlessly. “My fault. Let me buy you a coffee to make up for it.”
Tanner lifted his coffee. “Already taken care of.”
The woman looked disappointed but moved on and Tanner turned back to Callie. “Sorry, what were we talking about?”
Well, she’d been about to admit that she’d once sent him a Valentine’s Day card, which meant she’d also be admitting to her painful crush.
And that would lead to him saying out loud that he didn’t remember her. So she was eternally grateful they’d been interrupted. “We were discussing you being a cynic too,” she said. “You’re not…involved.”
“No,” he said. “I was married once, for about ten minutes.”
She knew all about him and Elisa. It’d been the talk of the town back then. “It didn’t work out?”
His laugh was mirthless. “No. I got beat all to shit.”
So she did have something in common with this big, built, tough, gorgeous man. “I’m sorry.”
“It was a long time ago,” he said. “And I did get something really great out of it. My son, Troy. But it’s not anything I’d repeat.”
She understood that. She lifted her coffee and touched it to his in a toast, acknowledging that they were in perfect sync on this sentiment.
“If it makes you feel better,” she said, “I got all the way to the altar before I got beat to shit. Didn’t actually say the I dos but it was close enough to teach me that happily-ever-afters are for fiction.” She smiled. “Don’t tell anyone, though. It’s not exactly good for business.”
He didn’t smile back. In fact, his gaze was dark and unreadable but also somehow…warm. Commiserating without pity. “Your secret’s safe with me,” he finally said softly, and they finished their coffee in comfortable silence.
Well, Tanner was comfortable anyway, at least going by his kick-back, sprawled posture in the chair.
Callie, not so much. She was wishing that she believed what she’d said about not wanting romance for herself because as she watched him, while pretending not to, she found herself aching just a little bit.
Damn, she really wished he remembered her.
“Gotta get back to work,” he said and rose.
“Right,” she said. “Me too.” She slipped her laptop back into her bag. Then she stood up and…knocked over her coffee.