Using her Maglite even though she didn’t need it with the moon casting a shocking amount of light, she made her way, counting paces, and then turned to the cliffs.
Lit by the moon and a gazillion stars was a lone lanky figure halfway up the cliff. The figure waved to her. And then her phone rang.
“Oh my God,” she said to him before he could speak.
“I’m okay,” he said. “Just…stuck.”
“Stuck,” she repeated numbly. Shielding her eyes from the moon’s glow, she tried desperately to get a better view. He appeared to be sitting on a ledge of some sort, though she couldn’t for the life of her understand how he’d gotten up there. “Are you injured?”
She drew a deep breath. “Okay, good. Now what the hell?”
“I drew something in the sand for someone and left them a note to come see, but then I wasn’t sure if it looked right so I climbed up here to check. And now I’m stuck.”
“Stuck,” she repeated.
“As in I can’t get down.”
She took another deep breath. “You free-climbed up the rocks sixty feet to see if your picture was any good…” She whirled around and stared at the rocky sand, and realized she was indeed standing in the middle of a…heart. “Aw.”
“No,” he said. “No aw. It’s not straight.”
“Where is she?” Callie asked.
“I texted her and told her not to come, that I couldn’t get out of work.”
“So you lied,” she said. “Because…?”
“The heart’s crooked.”
Being a teenager had been the most difficult time of her life. Stood to reason that Troy was feeling the same. “And now you’re stuck,” she said.
“I’ll call your dad. He’ll know what to do—”
“No!” he said urgently. “You can’t call him. I’m supposed to be working on a research paper for English. I sneaked out.”
She stared up at him.
“I know,” he said. “You can yell at me later.”
“Troy, I have no climbing skills. I can create a website and I can worry a lot. Those are my two skills.”
“You have more skills than that,” he said. “You make my dad happy. That’s a real talent.”
“Let’s call him,” she said softly.
“I’ll get in trouble.”
“But you’ll be alive.”
“Troy. It’ll be okay.”
“We’re finally sorta getting along,” Troy said. “What if he sends me back to my mom’s?”
There was such naked pain in the question that it stabbed right through Callie’s heart. “Oh, honey, don’t you get it yet? He’d never do that. He’d never walk away from you. He’s not like that.” Even as she said the words, she realized she really believed them.
Tanner didn’t walk away.
Not from his son.
And not from her…
She could trust him, she knew this to her very soul. Which of course made him more dangerous than ever because she could fall. She could really fall for him, and he would catch her. “Let me call him,” she said quietly into the phone. “He’ll know what to do.”
Troy didn’t say anything, and she could feel his fear and hesitation through the phone. “Trust me,” she said. “I’m going to disconnect. Hang tight—literally. I’m not going to move from this spot and I’ll call you right back.” She hit END, then sucked in a breath and called Tanner.
He arrived in three minutes, in navy running pants with a white stripe down the outline of each long leg, a skin-tight long-sleeved dry-fit tee and a backward baseball cap as he jogged across the beach toward her. “You okay?” he asked immediately, reaching for her.
Damn, he was a good man. “I am, yes,” she said. “Listen, I was hoping you could make me a promise.”
She gaped at him. Anything? Anything? And he’d answered so quickly too. But she’d have to marvel over that later because Troy was waiting. In fact, he was still on her cell phone listening to every word. “I want you to promise not to get mad.”
Tanner studied her for a beat. “Have you ever seen me lose my temper?”
“Yes. When you lost your very last senior football game by one touchdown. You trashed the locker room and got taken to the police station where your mother promised the sheriff that she’d punish you far worse than he ever could just so he’d let you go into her custody.”
He stared at her. “Let me rephrase. Have you seen me lose my temper lately? Say in the last decade?”
“A little bit, at the bar that night you told Sam and Cole to butt out.”
“That wasn’t me losing my temper. That was me telling my two nosy-ass friends to butt out.”
Okay, yeah. And in truth, Callie couldn’t really imagine him completely losing it. This Tanner, the man who’d been a SEAL and on the oil rigs, wasn’t a loose cannon. He was careful, pragmatic, tough, and absolutely stoic. He was also hardheaded and opinionated, but he was right, she hadn’t seen him lose his temper in a long time.
Giving up on waiting on her, he scanned their surroundings and she knew the exact moment he found Troy because he went still. “Give me your phone,” he said to Callie without taking his gaze off his son.