One in a MillionJill Shalvis
I want a hoedown wedding.”
Callie Sharpe, wedding site designer and planner, was professional enough to not blink at this news. “A hoedown wedding.”
“Yes,” her client said via Skype. “The bridesmaids want to wear cowboy boots and Jimmy wants to eat pigs in a blanket at the reception. You okay with that?”
“Sure,” Callie said to her laptop. After all, she loved pigs in a blanket so who was she to judge? “It’s your day, whatever you want.”
Her bride-to-be smiled. “You really know your wedding stuff. And you always look so wonderful. I love your clothes. Can I see what shoes you’re wearing? I bet they’re fab too.”
Callie didn’t let her easy smile slip. “Oh, but this is about your wedding, not my shoes. Let’s talk about your invitations—”
Callie sighed. For the camera, she wore a silky cami and blazer. Out of camera range, she wore capri yoga pants that doubled as PJs and…bunny slippers. “Whoops,” she said. “I’ve got another call. I’ll get back to you.”
She disconnected and grimaced. “Sorry,” she said to the client who could no longer hear her. She went back to work, clicking through page after page of the season’s new wedding dresses, uploading the ones she liked best. She switched to the latest invitation designs next. And then unique party favors and stylish accessories.
You really know your wedding stuff.
Unfortunately this was true. She’d been a bride once, the most silly, hopeful, eager bride ever. Well, an almost bride. She’d gotten all the way to the church before getting stood up, and since that memory still stung, she shoved it aside. She’d married something else instead—she’d united her strong IT skills with her secret, deeply buried love of all things romantic—and had created TyingTheKnot.com. On a daily basis, she dealt with demanding, temperamental, and in lots of cases, batshit-crazy brides, all looking for their happily-ever-after. She’d made it her job to give them the dream.
It was exhausting. Standing, Callie stretched and moved to the wall of windows. Her apartment was one of three in a battered old warehouse that had once been a cannery, then a salt water taffy manufacturer, and then, in the fifties, a carnival boardinghouse. The building wasn’t much to write home about, but the view made the lack of insulation and insufficient heat worth it.
Today the waters of Lucky Harbor were a gorgeous azure blue, dotted with whitecaps thanks to a brutal mid-November wind that was whistling through the tangle of steel rafters, metal joists, and worthless heating ducts above her.
Callie had grown up in this small, quirky Washington coastal town sandwiched between the Pacific and the Olympic Mountains, and once upon a time, she hadn’t been able to get out of here fast enough. There’d been more than one reason for that but she was back now, and not exactly because she wanted to be.
There was a man in the water swimming parallel to the shore. Passing the pier, he moved toward the north end and the row of warehouses, including the one she stood in.
Transfixed, she watched the steady strokes and marveled at his speed. He might as well have been a machine given how efficiently and effectively he cut through the water.
Callie had been in those waters, although only in the summertime. She couldn’t even swim to the end of the pier and back without needing life support.
But the man kept going.
After a long time, he finally turned and headed in, standing up in the water when he got close enough. After the incredible strength he’d shown swimming in the choppy surf, she was surprised when he limped to the sand. Especially since she couldn’t see anything wrong with him, at least from this distance.
He was in a full wetsuit, including something covering his head and most of his face. He peeled this off as he dropped to his knees, and she gasped.
Military-short, dark hair and dark eyes. And a hardness to his jaw that said he’d had the dark life to go with.
He looked just like…oh God, it was.
While she was standing there staring, her cell phone started ringing with the I Love Lucy theme song, signaling her grandma was calling. Eyes still glued to the beach—and the very hot man now unzipping his wetsuit—she reached for her phone. “Did you know Tanner Riggs was home?” she asked in lieu of a greeting.
“Well, hello to you too, my favorite nerd-techie granddaughter.”
“I’m your only granddaughter,” Callie said.
“Well, you’re still my favorite,” Lucille said. “And yes, of course I know Tanner’s in town. He lives here now. Honey, you’re not reading my Instagram or you’d already know this and much, much more.”
She didn’t touch that one. The sole reason she was back in Lucky Harbor and not in San Francisco was because of her grandma.
Callie’s dad—Lucille’s only son—had been an attorney. Actually both of her parents had been, and even retired, they still liked things neat and logical.
Grandma Lucille was neither, and Callie’s parents were pretty sure her grandma was no longer playing with a full set of marbles. Callie had drawn the short stick to come back and find out what needed to be done. She’d been here two weeks, staying in the rental because she needed to be able to work in peace. Her grandma had loaned her the car since she’d been soundly rejected by the DMV for a license renewal. The two of them had daily meals—mostly lunches, as Lucille’s social calendar made the queen of England look like a slacker. But there’d been no sign of crazy yet.
Not that Callie could give this any thought at the moment because Tanner shoved the wetsuit down to his hips.
Back in her high school days, a quiet brainiac like Callie had been invisible to him. Which had never gotten in the way of her fantasies, as the teenage Tanner Riggs had been rangy, tough, and as wild as they came.
He’d filled in and out, going from lanky teen to a man who looked like every inch of him was solid muscle, not a spare ounce of fat in sight.
Was he still tough and wild and a whole lot of trouble?
Oblivious to both her musings and the fact she was drooling over him, Tanner moved to the fifty-foot sport boat moored at the dock where he came face to face with a teenager who looked just like him down to his dark hair, dark eyes, and that air of wildness. Callie actually blinked in shock. Unless time travel was involved and Tanner had come back as his fifteen-year-old self, she was looking at his son.
The two males spoke for a moment, the teen’s body language sullen and tense, Tanner’s calm, stoic, and unreadable. Then still shirtless, his wetsuit low on his hips, Tanner hopped lithely onto the boat and shimmied his way up the mast, moving seemingly effortlessly on the strength of his arms and legs. He had something between his teeth, a rope, she saw, and damn if her heart didn’t sigh just a little bit at watching him climb with heart-stopping, badass grace.
“He’s certainly romance hero worthy,” her grandma said in her ear, nearly making Callie jump. She’d forgotten she was on the phone.
“Tall, dark, and a bit attitude ridden on the outside,” her grandma went on, “but on the inside, he’s really just a big softie.”
Callie couldn’t help it, she laughed. From her view, there was nothing soft about Tanner Riggs.
Not his body, not his mind, and certainly not his heart. “I remember him,” she said softly. And what she remembered was getting her teenage heart crushed. “I need to go, Grandma. But I’ll come by for lunch.”
“Good. I want to introduce you to the guy I think I’m going to take on as my new boyfriend.”
nbsp; Callie tore her gaze off Tanner and looked at her phone. “Wait—what? I’ve been here two weeks, and you haven’t mentioned this.”
“Yes, well, sometimes you can be a little prudish about these things.”
“I’m not prudish.”
“And you think I’m losing it,” Lucille said. “That one might be true.”
“I mean, just the other night I lost my glasses. And they were right on my head. Someone told me I needed to eat more blueberries to boost my memory. Which reminds me to ask, why couldn’t it be drink vodka, or something good, to regain some memory?”
Callie rubbed the headache brewing between her eyes. “Back to the taking on a boyfriend thing…”
“Well, I’ll need your definition of boyfriend first,” her grandma said.
Callie stared at the phone. “Maybe we should forget the blueberries and have your hormone levels checked.”
Lucille laughed. “I didn’t tell you about the boyfriend because my sweetie and I like to keep things on the down-low. And plus it was a test. A test to see if you’ve got skills to sniff out the dirt like I do. You failed, by the way.”
“You mean because I’m not a snoop?” Callie asked, trying not to picture her eighty-plus grandma having a “sweetie.” “And you do realize you have a reputation as the town’s unofficial media relations director, right?”
“Yep. Although I’m lobbying to make it official—as in a paid position.” She laughed when Callie snorted. “I swear, honey, it’s like you’re not even related to me. And anyway, how is it that you’re the one who taught me how to work a computer and what social media was, and yet you don’t utilize them to your favor?”
“You mean manipulate them?” Callie asked. “And I taught you all that because I thought you were getting elderly and bored and your mind would go to rot. I didn’t know you were going to terrorize people with it!”
Lucille laughed. “I’ve got a bunch of good years left before I’ll even consider getting elderly and bored. And no worries, my elevator still goes to the top floor. Come on over, honey. I’ve got to put the new registration sticker on the car; it just came in the mail. Nice that the state allows me to pay them for the car they won’t license me to drive, huh? To sweeten the deal, I’ve got dessert from Leah at the bakery. She makes the best stuff on the planet.”
Callie blew out a breath. “Okay, I’ll bring the main course, something from the diner.”
“I could make my famous fried chicken.”
Last week, Lucille had set her fried chicken on fire and had nearly burned her house to the ground. Hence the “famous.” Which was really more like infamous. “I’m on a diet,” Callie fibbed.
“That’s ridiculous,” Lucille said, obviously outraged. “You don’t need to go on a diet to catch a man. You look fantastic! I mean, you’re a little short but your curves are all the rage right now. And sure, you can come off as a little standoffish, but I blame your parents and their inability to love anyone other than themselves for that, not you.”
Callie choked back her laugh. It was true; she was the product of two college sweethearts who’d been so crazy in love with each other that nothing had ever really penetrated their inner circle—including their own child. They’d raised her kindly and warmly enough, but her quiet upbringing had left her introverted and preferring the company of a computer rather than people. “I’m not trying to catch a man,” she said.
“Well, that’s a shame. And not to add any pressure but you do know Eric’s around too, right?”
Eric. Damn. Just the sound of her ex’s name made her stomach cramp. “Eric who?” she asked casually.
Lucille cackled. “Atta girl. Perfectly normal tone. But next time, no hesitation. That was a dead giveaway. Just be forewarned that your ex-fiancé—may his soul turn black—has married and has a kid on the way.”
Callie told herself she didn’t care that the man who’d left her at the altar due to a sudden severe allergy to commitment had apparently managed to overcome said allergy.
“And I’m not sure how long you’re planning on staying in Lucky Harbor,” her grandma went on, “but I doubt you’ll be fortunate enough to avoid him. He’s the only dentist in town. So the question is, how are your teeth? In good condition? You flossing daily? You might want to make sure you are.”
Callie thunked her head against the window, and when she looked up again, she was startled to realize that Tanner was back on the dock and looking right at her.
For a minute, her heart stopped. “I’ve got to go, Grandma.” She needed to be alone to process things. Like the fact that Eric was in town. And also that her very first, very painful, very humiliating crush was as well, and he’d grown into the poster child for Hottest Guy Ever.
“Wait,” Lucille said. “Bring salads because you might be right about a diet. The one of us who is going to get lucky needs to stay hot and all that.”
Oh boy. “Salads it is.” Still on the phone, Callie forced herself away from the window, heading directly to her refrigerator. More accurately, her freezer, where she had two choices. “Ice cream or vodka?”
“Tough decision,” her grandma said. “But I’d go with vodka.”
It was a tough decision, but as it was still early and she wasn’t the one trying to look hot, she passed over the vodka and reached for the ice cream. Breakfast of champions, right? She had a wooden spoon out of the drawer and the lid off the ice cream when she remembered. Ice cream was sugar. Sugar was bad for her teeth. And bad teeth required a dentist. “Crap.”
“What?” Lucille asked.
Screw it, she needed this ice cream. “Nothing.”
“Did you hear what I said about Eric?”
“Yeah.” Callie took her first bite. “I’ll floss.” She was older and wiser now. No big deal. And plus her hefty armor of indifference and cynicism toward romance and happily-ever-after would help. “I’ll be fine.”
“Do you want me to set you up with another hottie? ’Cause no offense, honey, but you could do a lot better than Eric anyway. Listen, I’ll start a poll for you on my Tumblr asking who people want to see you with—”
“No!” Callie nearly went back to the freezer. “No,” she said again, firmly. “No men.”
“A woman then?” Lucille asked. “Being a bisexual is in style.”
Forget the vodka. She needed a new life. Maybe on Mars. “Grandma, I love you,” Callie said. “I love you madly, but I don’t want to discuss my love life with you.”
“You mean your lack of?”
She sighed. “Or that.”
“Fair enough,” Lucille said. “But for the record, we can discuss mine anytime you want.”
“I mean, it’s amazing what those little blue pills can do to a man, let me tell you. He can just keep going and going like the Energizer Bunny—”
“Really gotta go,” Callie said quickly. “I’ll see you later.” She disconnected, and she and the ice cream made her way back to the window.
Tanner was gone.
The ice cream didn’t cut it. Needing caffeine, Callie went back to her kitchen before remembering her coffeemaker had died and gone to heaven the day before.
Damn. This was going to require a trip into town. And possibly seeing people. Which in turn meant kicking off her slippers and shoving her feet into her fake Uggs. Quite the look, but she wasn’t planning on socializing. This was purely a medicinal trip.
In light of that, she skipped the diner and hit the bakery, thinking she’d get in and out faster. What she hadn’t planned on was the amazing, mouthwatering scent of the place and the way it drew her straight to the doughnut display. A pretty brunette was serving behind the counter. “How can I help you?”
“You Leah?” Callie asked.
“Perfect. It’s rumored you make the best desserts on the planet.”
“True story,” Leah said.
I’ll take a small coffee and two of those powdered sugar doughnuts then,” Callie said, pointing to the display.