Tanner managed to keep his thoughts to himself during the drive up there and boarding the boat. “It’s got one more room belowdecks than we have now,” he noted.
“Uh-huh, and you could use it,” Cole said. “So you don’t have to remember to shove something into the vents at Callie’s place.”
Well, shit. This morning when he’d shown up at Callie’s and taken her against the shower wall, he’d forgotten about putting socks in the vents. “How do you know who it was?” he asked. “Maybe it was Sam, you ever think of that?”
“You two sound different,” Cole said. He grimaced and closed his eyes, scrubbing his hands over his face as he swore beneath his breath. “I’m not super thrilled that I know what you guys sound like mid-throes. Jesus. Can we change the subject?”
They decided against buying the boat and then spent the late afternoon working out how to reconfigure theirs to better work for them. They were still at it when Tanner got a call from Troy.
“You might get a call from someone,” the kid said.
“A mom. Not mine.”
Tanner wasn’t going to like this conversation; he could tell. “Talk.”
“I got caught where I wasn’t supposed to be.”
Troy sighed. “Like sneaking out of a girl’s bedroom window.”
Jesus. “Are you kidding me?”
“It’s not what you think.”
“Good,” Tanner said. “Because what I think is that I told you to straighten your ass out, and it seems like you’re not even close to doing that.”
“I also need a ride,” Troy said, sounding unhappy.
The kid could join Tanner’s club. And Elisa was on pickup duty today. “Where are you?”
“The art gallery.”
“Be right there,” Tanner said.
“Problem?” Cole asked when Tanner had disconnected.
“Several,” Tanner said. “He got caught sneaking out of a girl’s bedroom.”
“You wouldn’t have gotten caught.”
Tanner blew out a breath at the not-so-gentle reminder that, if Troy was trouble, he was a chip off the old block. “Shit. I have to go get him. I’m going to do my best not to strangle him on sight.”
“Thought Elisa was getting him today,” Cole said.
“I thought so too,” Tanner said. “I mean, she hasn’t seen him all week so I thought she’d be on it.”
The situation was odd enough that Tanner called his mom on the way to the art gallery. “You hear from Elisa?”
“No,” his mom said, and then hesitated. “But she’s been seen celebrating something at the Love Shack.”
Tanner’s gut clenched. “You know what that something might be?”
“My gut guess?” she asked. “That she’s going to go back to Florida soon.”
“She can’t have him,” Tanner said immediately. Hell no. The kid was giving him gray hair, testing him.
Troy could push all he wanted, Tanner wasn’t going to walk away. He might have a stroke but he wouldn’t give up.
“I don’t think she’s planning on taking him with her, honey,” his mom said.
Tanner blew out a breath. This was not good. This would seriously fuck with Troy’s head, being ditched by a parent.
As he knew all too well.
“Bring him here for dinner,” his mom said. “You’re both too thin. I’ll fatten you up.”
“He’s not going to be in the mood.”
“Baby, everyone’s in the mood for my pot roast, trust me.”
Tanner drove past the Love Shack, then decided the hell with it and did a U-turn and parked in the lot. He took the extra minute to call Lucille, eyes on the bar. “You still got him?” he asked.
“Of course,” Lucille said.
“Can you hold him five more minutes?”
“Honey, you can leave him here with me until I go to the big bingo game in the sky,” Lucille said, forever earning a spot of gratitude in Tanner’s heart.
“Five minutes,” he said, and hung up. And then he walked into the Love Shack.
Elisa was belly up to the bar with Dan. They were toasting each other with a shot of something. Once upon a time, Elisa had been the hottest thing Tanner had ever seen with her wild blond hair and curvy figure and that way she had of smiling at a man like he was the only man alive.
She tossed her head back and laughed heartily, and her boyfriend hung on her every move.
She was still hot, Tanner could admit. But she no longer stirred his blood.
Catching sight of him, she straightened, sending him a much more muted smile than she’d given her boyfriend. “Hey,” she said. “What’s up?”
“We need to talk,” Tanner said.
“Sure,” she said, and glanced at Dan. “Go ahead.”
“Here?” Tanner asked, giving her an are-you-sure look, wanting to give her the chance to make this private.
“Yes,” she said. “Here.”
Fine. Here it was. “You going back to Florida?”
There was a quick flash of an emotion he recognized all too well, because it’d been what he’d spent a whole lot of years feeling over her.
His guilt had been directly related to ruining her life with a pregnancy at age seventeen. He’d never regretted Troy, not once, but he did regret forcing Elisa to grow up fast. And though he’d done his best by her, the simple truth was that she’d been just a girl to him, never the love of his life.