She sighed. “My ex-almost-husband.”
He remembered what she’d said during their love-wasn’t-for-her talk. I got all the way to the altar before I got beat to shit. Hell. “That was the guy you were engaged to?” he asked.
“Right up until the day he got cold feet,” she said way too casually.
He craned his neck and eyed the door. He couldn’t have gotten far. “Want me to go beat the shit out of him?”
She laughed. “Yes, please.” Then she stared at him. “Wait. You’re kidding, right?”
Not in the slightest.
She took in his expression and laughed again, this one low and a little bit ragged. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s asked me in a while,” she said, but she shook her head. “And thanks but no. I’m good. I’m actually going to get going. See you.” Then she turned and ran right into two people coming in the door.
Tanner grimaced for her as she backed up, apologized profusely, and tried again.
To be safe, Tanner stepped forward with her, setting a hand on her back, guiding her out after opening the door for her.
“Sometimes,” she muttered, “I’m pretty sure my guardian angel drinks.”
Tanner spent the rest of the day on the boat with Cole, working on the boat’s mechanics. They were head deep in the engine compartment, grimy from head to toe, when Cole suddenly piped up with “So you’re going for Callie?”
Tanner lifted his head so fast that he cracked it on the boat frame. “Shit. Damn. Fuck.”
Cole grinned. “Yeah. It’s true.”
“What’s true, that you’re an asshole?” Tanner asked, holding his head. “Sonofabitch, that hurt.”
“Did it knock any sense into you?” Cole asked.
“I’ve got more sense in my pinkie finger than you have in your whole body,” Tanner said.
“You know, she’d be good for you.”
Tanner stared at him. “How the hell do you figure that?”
“I hear from Olivia that she’s funny, smart, and won’t put up with any of your shit.”
“We’re so not having this conversation,” Tanner said, lowering his fingers from his noggin to check if he was bleeding. “Shit.”
“Come here, you big baby.” Cole cupped Tanner’s face and tilted it down to look at the top of his head. “Okay, so there’s good news and bad news.”
“Just tell me,” Tanner grated out.
“The good news is your head’s still attached to your shoulders,” Cole said.
“And the bad news?” Tanner asked.
“The hit doesn’t appear to have knocked any sense into you.”
Tanner gave Cole a shove that didn’t budge him. Cole often came off all casual and easy, but in reality he wasn’t either. He was just as tough as Sam or Tanner himself, and he was also the glue that held them all together. And sometimes, like now, he acted like a chick. Tanner shoved him again and Cole shoved back, and then the men had each other in a headlock.
“Hug me like you mean it,” Cole said. “And I’ll let go.”
“I’m going to kick your ass.”
“Hug me like you love me, bitch.”
“Uh…I can come back.” This was from Troy, who’d apparently shown up from school as he’d been instructed to do since he was still grounded from everything else. He was standing on the dock, backpack hanging off one shoulder, staring at them. “If you wanna be alone.”
Cole laughed a little and from his hunched-over position craned his neck to look up at Tanner. “He thinks we’re—”
“Hey,” Troy said, backing away, lifting up his hands. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Of course there isn’t,” Tanner said. “But we’re not.”
“There’s a kid in my class that has two moms,” Troy said.
“That’s great,” Tanner said, shoving free of Cole. “But it’s not…Cole and I aren’t like that. Not that it wouldn’t be fine if we were.”
“Speak for yourself,” Cole said, straightening his sweatshirt. “You’re not even close to my type.”
Tanner gave him another shove and Cole blew him a kiss.
“Knock it off, you idiot,” Tanner said. He looked at Troy. “He’s kidding.”
“Oh.” Troy nodded. “That’s good because Tumblr says you’re having a thing with some chick named Callie.”
“I am not having a thing with Callie,” Tanner said, though he had to admit he wouldn’t mind having a thing with her. Maybe a couple of things. He turned to Cole. “And what the hell do you mean, I’m not your type?”
Tanner took Troy fishing. He took the boat out to his secret sweet spot and showed the kid how to get one on the line without fail.
The entire time Troy looked like he was getting a root canal.
So much for bonding.
After nearly three hours of silence, Tanner gave up. “Is there a problem?”
“Hello,” he said.
Troy pulled out an earbud. Tinny music blared out. Tanner stared at him and then shook his head. Jesus. “Not your thing, fishing?”
Troy looked relieved. “Fish suck.”
Okay, so maybe they weren’t two peas in a pod after all.
That evening they sat at Tanner’s kitchen table and worked on Troy’s chemistry homework due to the D he’d come home with.