“Hey,” the kid said.
“Just kidding,” she told him.
He didn’t look mollified. “I’m closing now.”
“My prize first,” she said.
Callie didn’t hesitate. She pointed to the purple unicorn with a hideously bright pink mane.
None of the prizes was great but she’d seriously chosen the least attractive of the bunch. “You sure you want that one?” Tanner asked as the kid handed it to her.
“Of course I’m sure.” She hugged it to her chest like it was precious cargo. “Why not this one?”
“Because it’s a purple unicorn?”
She stared down at the stuffed animal as if just realizing it was purple. “When we were in school, I’d come play my entire allowance away trying to win her.” She paused and stroked the neon, eye-blinding pink mane. “I never did.”
Tanner had seen her throw. He wasn’t surprised. He kept that to himself, as he was in enough hot water. “Should’ve gotten one of the football players who paid you to do their homework down here to win it for you,” he said.
“I wasn’t like you,” she said, talking into the unicorn’s plastic eyes. “I wasn’t popular. I didn’t have a lot of friends that I could’ve asked to do this.” She paused and then grimaced. “Okay, I had no friends that could have done this…” She trailed off, looking as though she wished she hadn’t said that.
But he’d already flashed on the image of the shy girl who’d paid a buck to send him a Valentine all those years ago.
And then he thought about her getting left at the altar. And every wedding she planned probably took another piece out of her, and she didn’t even realize it. “Callie,” he said softly.
She lifted her head to meet his gaze, her own carefully shuttered. He knew she’d learned how to do that the hard way, and a surge of emotion nearly choked him.
“Closing now,” the kid said again, sounding worried that they’d never leave.
Yeah, they needed to take this shit somewhere private anyway. He took Callie’s hand and led her out of the arcade and down the dark pier.
They stood alone there, the surf pounding the shore behind them, hitting up against the wood pylons beneath their feet so that the foundation shuddered with the power of it.
“I’m still mad at you,” she said quietly, staring out at the water. “But thanks for winning the unicorn for me.” She gave him a side glance. “I owe you.”
“Yes.” She turned to face him and her gaze dropped to his mouth, telling him exactly where her mind was at.
His was already there.
She was leaning back against the railing now, beyond which was the dark night and churning waves, matching the storm in her eyes. Reaching out, he took the unicorn from where she had it clutched to her chest.
“Hey,” she said.
He set the thing on a bench and turned back to her.
“What are you doing?” she asked, brow furrowed with great suspicion.
Setting a hand on either side of her so that he was gripping the railing at her hips, he leaned in. “I’m trying to say I’m sorry.”
She stared up at him for a beat. “Why?”
“You know why.”
“You’re referring to when you said I was—and let me quote you here—‘She’s nothing.’ Yes?”
Holding her gaze, he let her see his regret. “I said ‘She’s a coffee companion. Just that, nothing more.’ And that was true—until the kiss.”
She looked at him for a long beat. “And the rest?” she finally asked. “The knock-it-off-with-the-Callie-shit thing?”
“That was me being an idiot and saying the opposite of what I meant when I was backed into a corner.”
Another long, searching look. “Okay.” She crossed her arms and met his gaze. “Go on with your apology then.”
“I shouldn’t have said any of it,” he said. “I certainly didn’t mean it. You just…” He shook his head. “Christ, Callie. I feel a little out of my league with you and—” He broke off at her hard laugh. “What?”
“You feel out of your league with me?”
He couldn’t tell by her expression if this was a good thing or not. “Yes,” he said, going for broke.
When she only shook her head and muttered something he couldn’t quite catch, he shoved his fingers in his hair.
“Frustrated?” she asked mildly.
“Getting there, yeah. This makes me nuts. You make me nuts, and I don’t even know why.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I know,” she said, turning away. “It’s because I have that effect on men.”
Shit. He was truly the world’s biggest fuckup. “Callie, look at me.”
Too bad. Hands on her hips, he turned her to face him. “I meant that you drive me nuts in the very best way.”
She narrowed her eyes. “There’s a best way for that?”
“Apparently. And you’re it.” Sliding his hands up her arms, he cupped her face, needing to make sure she heard what he was going to say. “I’m sorry I hurt you. It’s important to me that you know that. Hurting you is the very last thing I would ever want to do.”
She looked at him for a long beat—she didn’t have much choice as he was holding her head—but then she slowly shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”