And there was only one reason she’d ever flash guilt back at him. “You are,” he said flatly. “And Troy?”
“He’ll be happier here with you.”
True statement. But she didn’t want Troy. “Jesus, Elisa. You can’t just walk away from him.”
“Don’t you judge me,” she said, pointing a finger in his face. “Don’t you dare judge me!”
At the tone of distress and fury in her voice, others around them quieted and started to take notice of their conversation. “Let’s take this outside,” Tanner said.
“Happy to,” Dan said, slipping a proprietary arm around Elisa.
“Not you,” Tanner said. “Me and Elisa.”
Dan scowled. “Anywhere she goes, I go.”
Perfect. Tanner gave Elisa a long, hard look and she turned to face the guy. “I’ve got this, baby.” She leaned in closer and put her lips to the corner of Dan’s. “He’s an ex–Navy SEAL,” she whispered, “so stop it.”
“I’m not afraid of him,” Dan said.
Elisa patted him on the chest, softening her voice. “Wait here, okay? I’ll be right back.”
Dan flicked her a glance. “You sure?”
“Yes.” She went up on tiptoes and brushed a kiss across his lips.
Tanner turned on his heel and walked outside. Elisa followed and then stood there, arms crossed over her chest in a defensive posture.
“What the hell, Elisa?”
“I’m getting married,” she said.
Belatedly he noticed the rock sparkling on her finger. “What does that have to do with deserting Troy?”
“Deserting him?” she repeated in disbelief. “More like I’m giving you your turn. You deserted us, for years and years.”
“If you’re referring to when I went into the navy because I was a teenager with no other means to support the three of us—”
“Elisa.” He shoved his hands through his hair. “I gave up college for you. I went into the navy so you wouldn’t have to give up college too. I sent you every penny I could—”
“I didn’t want your money!” she yelled at him.
He raised a brow. To his knowledge, she’d cashed every single check.
“And I didn’t want you to give up college! I wanted you!” She gave him a push to the chest.
He held his ground with ease and tried to process. “Is that why you took off for Florida and sent me divorce papers?” he asked. “Because you wanted me?”
“Yes. No.” She blew out a heavy sigh. “It just got so messed up. And I was so young. And stupid.” She closed her eyes. “It started out just me wanting to go to the same college as you.”
He’d known that. But she hadn’t gotten accepted. “In the end, it didn’t matter,” he said quietly. “You got pregnant and I didn’t end up going.”
“Yes, but I didn’t know that when—” She tightened her mouth and he went still.
“When what, Elisa?”
She sighed. “When I pretended to be on the pill.”
His world tilted a little bit, like he was off his axis. “Say that again.”
She closed her eyes. “I got pregnant on purpose so you’d go to a junior college near home and stay with me forever.”
He backed to the concrete wall lining the parking lot and sat. Had to, because his legs were like rubber.
Elisa came and sat next to him, quiet, staring down at her boots. “Of course you never did anything I wanted you to do,” she said eventually. She reached for his hand and brought it to her heart. “I’m sorry, Tanner. I’m so sorry I lied to you, about everything.”
He met her gaze, surprised to find her eyes shiny with tears and real regret. He was torn between being furious at her fifteen-year deception and being terrified for Troy to lose his mom. “He needs both of us, Elisa. Don’t do this.”
“I’ve given him everything I have,” she said. “I need something for myself.”
“And Dan is that something?”
“Yes. I love him, and I love Florida.”
He thought of what Troy had gotten in trouble for today, and all the trouble he probably still had to find, and he knew that the kid needed two parents. At the very least. “Troy needs—”
“You,” Elisa said softly. “He needs you, Tanner. You two will be okay. And he can come see me whenever he wants.” She sucked in a breath. “Don’t hate me.”
He wanted to, badly. But he shook his head. “I can’t.” He squeezed her fingers back. “You gave me my son.”
She hugged him and he let her for a moment. “I still think you’re doing the wrong thing,” he said, rising to his feet.
“You said you didn’t hate me.”
“I don’t, but I’m still pissed as hell. Troy deserves better than this from his mom.”
She shook her head, her expression stubborn and closed, and he knew he couldn’t talk her into staying. Hell, he was just lucky that she didn’t want to take Troy along with her because then there’d have been a real battle.
She stood too and tried to smile but sucked in a half sob. “You’ll take care of—”
“Yes,” he said. “I’ll take care of him.”
“And you,” she whispered. “Take care of you too.”