He simply took it out of her hand and held it up to his ear. “Talk to me.”
She had no idea what Troy said, but Tanner whipped around and eyed the crooked heart. She wasn’t sure but she thought maybe the very corners of his mouth quirked slightly.
“Hold tight,” he said into the phone, then handed it back to Callie.
“We need ropes, right?” she asked worriedly. “Maybe call search and rescue? Or I can call Matt Bowers—he’s an old friend. He’s a forest ranger now, but he’s also a rock climber. He’d help.”
“I know Matt, but I don’t need him.” And with that, Tanner strode across the rocky terrain, got to the cliff, and started climbing.
Callie sucked in a breath and held it, watching Tanner shimmy up the rocks toward his son, his movements sure and strong despite his leg injury.
When he reached Troy, there was some discussion and then they both began a descent. Tanner went first, remaining within touching distance of his son, clearly dictating his every move.
When father and son finally hit the beach, Callie let out a long shaky breath and hugged Troy hard.
He went still as stone for a beat and then awkwardly patted her back.
“I told you it would be okay,” she whispered in his ear.
“I’m probably grounded for life,” he whispered back.
“Not life,” Tanner, said and cupped the nape of Troy’s neck, giving him an affectionate but none-too-gentle shove toward the way they’d come. “Just your foreseeable future. But hey, look on the bright side, you’ve got a dark purple room to sit in.”
Tanner pointed to his truck and Troy got in.
Tanner walked past the vehicle and opened Callie’s driver-side door for her, waiting until she sat before crouching down and looking into her face.
“Are you mad?” she asked worriedly.
He ran a finger along her temple. “My son got into trouble and he called you for help. I’m not mad. I’m fucking grateful. Now I have to go have a very long, very detailed discussion with my knuckle-headed son.”
“You can’t get mad at him,” she said. “I promised him that you wouldn’t.”
“Not a smart promise, babe.”
“Tanner, I’m serious.”
“Me too,” he said. “He screwed up. There’s got to be consequences for that.”
“You can’t,” she said. “You said you weren’t mad.”
“At you. I’m not mad at you.”
“Callie, he’s getting a D in English and he was supposed to be working on a research paper to help his grade. Instead he sneaked out of the house,” he said with calm steel. “He put himself and nearly a teenage girl at risk. I have to deal with that.”
“And in doing so, you’re making me go back on my word.”
“You shouldn’t have promised him anything that had to do with him and me.”
She heard him, heard the logic and accepted that he was right, but it didn’t make it any easier for her to take. Nor did the fact that she had no idea why she was so fired up about this. Maybe because she could still see the fear on Troy’s face, and how desperately he’d wanted to keep this screwup from his father. “He kept it from you not because he didn’t want to get in trouble,” she said, “but because he was afraid you’d send him away.”
“I’ll never send him away,” Tanner said with such utter conviction that it brought tears to Callie’s eyes. Great, and now she was envious of a father/son relationship. “Please move,” she said, and when he did, she shut her door and drove off.
Callie was awoken yet again, this time to a knock at her door.
Becca, she thought. For breakfast. Damn, she’d overslept. No wonder, since it’d taken her hours to fall asleep after she’d gotten home.
At the thought of what had happened the night before, she sighed. She’d overstepped a line and tried to tell Tanner how to parent. She, who had no idea how.
What had she been thinking?
And even then, Tanner had followed her home to make sure she’d gotten there okay. Well, that or he was making sure she wasn’t going to his house to yell at him some more. In either case, she’d seen him pull into the warehouse lot and wait until she’d let herself in.
A good guy to the end.
And it was the end. She’d let herself get in too deep. It was time to swim for shore and call it a day.
The knock came again.
She cracked a lid open. Muted, gray daylight poured in the windows. Rain slashed against the glass, drumming against the roof noisily.
A storm had rolled in.
And there went the third knock. “Coming!” she called out, and rubbed her eyes as she ran to the door. “I’m sorry,” she said as she pulled it open, shivering at the chill that hit her. “I’m going to need a few minutes to—”
But she broke off because it wasn’t Becca.
Not even close.
It was the last person on earth she’d expected to see.
Okay, maybe not the last person. That honor certainly would’ve gone to Perfect Eric and his Perfect Wife with her freakishly straight white teeth…
Instead, it was Tanner, clearly having just come in from the rain, his clothes plastered to him, looking hotter and more awake than any man should look, holding—oh God, how was she supposed to resist this—coffees and a bag that smelled even more delicious than he did.