“What she wanted?” Becca said. Actually, it was more like she yelled it. “Are you kidding me? You were a Navy SEAL, for God’s sake. I know you’re smart as hell.” She was hands on hips now, glaring at him.
Tanner looked at Sam.
“Maybe we should spell it out for him,” Sam said to Becca.
“Fine,” she said. “Let me do that.” She pointed at Tanner and though she was a good eight inches shorter than he, she got right up in his face. “She grew up with quiet, introverted parents. They loved her in their own way, but it was a distant, pat-her-on-the-head kind of way. And everyone who’s come into her life ever since has been the same. Loving her in their way.”
Tanner opened his mouth to tell her he got that, but she jabbed her pointer finger at him again. “No, you just shush a minute and listen. I mean really listen,” she said. “Not that I should have to be saying this to you because you knew her before I did and you should’ve already been clued in.” She shook her head in disgust. “She’s smart. So damn smart. In the past, that’s alienated her, Tanner, and those smarts of hers don’t keep her company. Yeah, maybe she was paid by the athletes to do their homework, but none of them wanted to date her. Especially not the hottest one of them all.”
“Yeah,” she said. “You.”
“Jesus, Becca. I was older than her,” he said in his own defense. “She wasn’t on my radar.”
“Well, you were on her radar,” Becca said. “She was lonely, which made her ripe pickings for a guy to come along and trample all over her heart.”
“Eric,” Tanner said in disgust.
Becca nodded. “She’s grown up a lot since then, but deep inside she’s still that lonely little girl looking for someone to love her just for her.”
“I want her just for her,” he said, thinking of how he wanted her for the rest of their lives. “She knows that I do—” He broke off as a terrible realization sent his stomach dropping into his boots, feeling like it was down for the count.
Did she know?
Because how could she? He’d been careful, very careful, to abide by the rules. Not because she’d laid them down, but because he was a fucking coward. From the beginning Callie had made him promise that sleeping together would change nothing. And he’d given her that promise.
Looking back on it, he’d done so with a cockiness that disgusted him now. In the beginning, he’d honestly believed he could stay detached and had just as honestly believed the same of her. There’d been safety in that, the two of them both vowing to remain emotion-free. But that ship had sailed because for the first time in his life, it wasn’t enough.
With her, it wouldn’t ever be enough. She’d wrapped her fingers around his heart, when he hadn’t even been sure the organ still worked. But it did. And she owned it. She owned him.
Without even realizing it, he’d come to trust her with his heart and now he wanted her to trust him with hers. But he’d kept her in the dark. “Shit. I am an idiot.”
Becca patted him very kindly on the arm. “They say knowing is half the battle.”
Callie sat at her grandma’s kitchen table. The tablecloth was a soft, battered cotton and had been there as long as she could remember. In fact, the entire kitchen brought back memories. The scent of cookies in the oven and last night’s roast. The lace hanging in the window. The linoleum floor, with the dent from the time Callie had dropped the deep fryer.
Lots of decisions had been made here, right here, with her grandma sitting across the table offering advice and food. Things like whether she could ride her bike to the store by herself, or if she really needed yet another memory board for her computer, or where to go to college.
But this decision was a biggie. “I think selling TyingTheKnot.com is the right thing to do,” she said. “It’s not making me happy.”
“No, you’re not making you happy,” Lucille said. “Selling your business won’t change that.”
“Grandma, you’re not helping.”
“Well, someone has to tell you how things are.”
“I know how things are,” Callie said.
“So you know you’re being reactive and also a big, fat chicken by turning tail? Selling your business and running back to San Francisco isn’t going to fix anything, Callie Anne. You’ll still retreat inside of yourself and block people off, good people, great people, including a man who actually loves you. My God, Callie, the man forgot a date, not you as a person.”
Well, when she said it that way, Callie felt silly and juvenile. But she couldn’t discount her feelings. She couldn’t, because she had a habit of letting others discount them for her. “He left me standing there waiting for him on the dock like—” She cut herself off because there was a sudden lump in her throat.
“This is not the same thing as being left at the altar,” Lucille said gently. “Tanner wouldn’t do that. I’m sure he has a very good reason for whatever happened today.”
“I know it,” Callie said. “My point is that my overblown reaction is telling. It means I’m not ready for a relationship. And by the way, he never said he loves me.”
“Because—and stop me if I’m boring you here—you told him you weren’t interested in such things as love.”