“Like—” Troy broke off.
“Oh, don’t chicken out now,” Tanner said. “Talk to me.”
Tanner paused. “What about her?”
Troy looked down at his feet. “If you’re holding back with her ’cause of me…”
“No. I’m not.”
Troy looked up. “So you two are a thing?”
Troy blinked. “I don’t get it.”
“Complicated, like you don’t like her enough?” Troy asked, both disappointment and anger crossing his face. “Because that sucks. She’s totally into you. Like, really into you. If you don’t like her, you’re leading her on.”
Tanner let out a long breath. “It’s not like that. We decided we’re…friends.”
Troy stared at him. “She put you in the friend zone?”
Why did everyone in his life think that this was all Callie’s doing? Because besides your son, she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you, and everyone but you, the resident jackass, knows it…
“What did you do?” Troy asked. “Did you forget your one-month anniversary? Or accidentally bring up another girl? Or tell her that you think any Nicholas Sparks movie is dumb? Girls don’t like any of that stuff.”
Tanner scrubbed his hands over his face. “We agreed to be friends. The two of us agreed.”
And how’s that working out for ya? a voice inside his head asked.
Troy shook his head. “That was dumb.”
“Yeah.” Tanner blew out another breath. “It was.”
Tanner looked at him. “So…what?”
“God, Dad. Even I know you go after the girl when you do something dumb.”
Tanner stared at him and Troy laughed. Laughed. The sound was precious. “I love you,” Tanner said.
Troy’s smiled faded.
“I’ve been trying to give you your space before I said that too much,” Tanner said. “I wanted you to get to know me, but that doesn’t seem to be working out so well for us and I don’t want to waste any more time. I love you, Troy. And like I said, that’s never going to change. You need to know that.”
Troy broke eye contact and stared out the window. “I do know it.”
Troy eyed him warily. “So do we have to, like, hug now or something?”
“Yeah,” Tanner said, and snagged Troy with an arm around the neck and pulled him in, giving him a knuckle rub on the head first for good measure.
With another of those precious laughs, Troy shoved free. “Hope you got that out of your system.”
“I probably didn’t,” Tanner said. “I might feel the need to tell you that. A lot.”
“And the hugging?” Troy asked, the wary look on his face just a front now.
“I don’t know, man,” Tanner said. “I kinda liked it.”
Troy stared at him, a new light in his eyes, one that Tanner had never seen before.
Not love, not exactly, but affection.
He’d take it.
One week later—seven deliciously sexy, erotic nights in Tanner’s arms—it was finally Becca and Sam’s bachelorette/bachelor party. Mother Nature cooperated with mild temps, but as night fell they combated the chill with carefully placed outdoor heaters along the dock and on the boat. The decorations were up and the boat was rollicking with friends and family when Callie took her first deep breath.
Her phone buzzed with an incoming text from one of her brides. The “litter” bride.
Everything was perfect, Callie. I know I panicked a lot leading up to the wedding. And I also know the odds are good I’ll panic occasionally throughout this marriage as well. But the wedding was worth every bit of angst and so is my husband. Thank you for believing in love and teaching me to believe as well.
Callie stared at the text for a long moment. An epiphany probably shouldn’t be inspired by a text from a bride she didn’t even know all that well, but there was no denying that she felt something loosen in her chest as she let the words sink in.
The wedding was worth every bit of angst and so is my husband…
Thank you for believing in love…
Was it true? Had she slowly come to believe in love?
“You did well, honey.” Lucille came up beside her and slipped a hand in hers. “Look at them. So happy.”
Callie took in the sight of Becca standing in the bow, wearing a gorgeous dress and boots, both of which Olivia had gifted her from the vintage shop. Becca was glowing with happiness—as she had been since early that morning when she’d peed on a stick, turned it blue, and pounded on Callie’s and Olivia’s doors at the crack of dawn to tell them she was pregnant. Now Becca was greeting a group of friends as they arrived. Sam came up to his soon-to-be bride and, clearly not caring one whit that they had an audience, pulled her in close and laid a hell of a kiss on her.
Something tightened deep inside Callie. A yearning, she realized. An ache. Each of her friends here was part of a couple, and she was so happy for them. She truly was.
But something clicked in place and she realized…she wanted that too. She wanted what Sam and Becca had. What Olivia and Cole had. She wanted to wake up next to the same person every morning and have him see her Wild Man of Borneo hair and be okay with that and whatever their future brought. She wanted to let a man all the way in, wanted him to know her crazy grandma and understand those were her genes and have him still want her. She wanted to know that the man she loved felt the same about her and always would.