Then he opened the door, calm as you please, and…walked right in.
“Hey, honey,” Lucille said to him. “We were just talking about you.”
Tanner gave Lucille a kiss on the cheek. He turned and shook Mr. Wykowski’s hand.
“Do you want some cookies?” Lucille asked him.
“Maybe later,” he said, and looked at Callie. “Right now, I’d like a moment alone with your granddaughter if you don’t mind.”
“Oh,” Lucille said in clear disappointment. “But—”
Mr. Wykowski took her by the hand and pulled her toward the door, winking at Callie over her grandma’s head.
Callie didn’t wink back. Couldn’t. “How long were you standing there?” she asked Tanner quietly. “What did you hear?”
“Nothing. I’ve got some things to say to you, Callie.” His voice was quiet steel. “And I need you to look me in the eye and tell me you’re going to hear me.”
She crossed her arms over her chest but her heart still ached so badly she didn’t know how she was supposed to function. Then Tanner was there, right there in front of her, cupping her face up to his. His eyes were dark and serious, oh-so-very serious. Which wasn’t to say that she didn’t soak in the rest of him, the scruffy jaw, the feel of his hands on her, his scent—which was so unbearably familiar they triggered all sorts of memories and made her ache all the more.
“Say it,” he said. “Say you’re going to listen.”
She reminded herself that she was the injured party here, that she was the one who’d stood on that damn dock like an idiot for an hour.
Yes, an hour.
She was the one who’d put her heart on the line and been burned for it. She was the one who was about to completely lose it.
“Please,” he said softly. Intently.
Tanner was strong, of both mind and body. Confident. Smart. Loyal. Tough. God, so tough. It wasn’t often he asked for something, anything, and as much as she wanted to push him out the door and go back to her pity party, she found she couldn’t deny him anything. “I promise to listen,” she whispered.
He didn’t waste a second. “I’m sorry about this afternoon. I had an emergency with Troy. I should have called or texted and I didn’t, and I hurt you. I can’t take that back, but—”
“Is Troy okay?” she asked. “What happened?”
He blinked and then smiled a little. “That right there,” he murmured. “You putting Troy first is why I—”
“Is he okay?”
“Yeah,” he said. “He got in a fight at school, and—”
“Oh my God.”
“He’s okay,” he said. “But—”
“—but he needed you,” she said, and let out a breath. “I get that. You put him first and you should.”
“Callie, I’m sorry.”
“No,” she said. “You did the exact right thing putting him ahead of a silly date. You always do the right thing. I wouldn’t ever expect otherwise.”
He stepped close and stroked his thumb along her jaw, and then beneath her eye, catching a wayward tear she hadn’t even realized she’d shed while talking to Lucille and Mr. Wykowski.
“But by doing that, I hurt you,” he said. “I hate that.”
“That’s on me, not you. I was waiting for you and when you didn’t show, I…reacted badly.”
“You thought I’d left you waiting on purpose,” he said, looking extremely unhappy. “In fact, in some ways you’ve been waiting on me to leave you from the beginning.”
“Truth,” he said, holding her gaze, not letting her look away.
“Okay, yes. Fine,” she said. “You’re right. I’ve been half braced for that. I figured you’d walk away eventually, I just didn’t know when.”
His eyes flashed and she knew he was frustrated and probably ticked off, but he listened when she went on.
“So this afternoon when you didn’t show,” she said, “it sent me spiraling. I went straight to a bad head space and assumed the worst.”
“There’s something you don’t get,” he said. “Some men walk away. Not me. I don’t operate that way. Yes, I fucked up. I fucked up big and I hurt you, and that was the last thing I ever wanted to do. But I want to fix this. I’m not sure how, but I’m not running. I’m choosing you, Callie. I’m not going anywhere and I want this to work. But if you don’t want it too, tell me right now.”
She didn’t say anything and he stepped in closer so that she was forced to tilt her head up to see him. “You set the parameters for this relationship from the get-go,” he said. “And I let you. Do you know why?”
“Because they suited you too,” she said.
“Maybe at first, but things change. And now they don’t suit me in the slightest,” he said. “But I wanted to be with you, and I told myself to take whatever you could give me and be happy with that. But I wasn’t, Callie. I wanted more. I was going to get to that tonight, in fact, even though I wasn’t sure you would ever admit to wanting the same. Until I heard you talking to your grandma and Mr. W.”
“Hey,” she said. “You said you didn’t hear anything.”