Ryan McCallister is ready to come home and put the heartbreak of his first love behind him. But when he returns after teaching abroad, the home he once knew isn’t quite ready for him. The woman Ryan once loved is living with his brother; his friends have moved on; and his new landlady, Eva Romero, seems determined not to like him.
But Ryan likes Eva. A lot.
It doesn’t matter that Eva has a six-year-old son and a troubled ex-husband; when Ryan’s with her, everything makes sense. Eva isn’t convinced she’s ready to take another chance on love, but Ryan’s determined to show her he’s worth the risk.
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About the Author
Victoria De La O is the award-winning author of the Tell Me romance trilogy, including Tell Me How This Ends. A native of California’s Silicon Valley, she spends her time raising two crazy kids with her husband, working at Stanford University, arguing about films, and partaking in chicanery.
Read an Excerpt
It's feels like an eternity since I've been home. In reality, it's only been a year.
My slow walk to the house is surreal. The lawn is as pristine as ever, each blade of grass shorn to the same height by Jude's meticulous mowing. The red geraniums I planted years ago are thriving. And the dent in the porch rail, caused by my foot accidentally connecting with the wood, is still visible. But I don't remember the house being this uninspiring shade of blue, or the crack on the front stoop being this wide. This house, this city, used to be my whole world. It seemed a lot bigger then.
Discordance skitters over my spine: what should be familiar is foreign, relief mingles with anxiety. Time snaps and contracts as I knock on the front door, and suddenly it seems like an hour since I left. A nanosecond.
The door swings open, and the reason for my hasty departure is staring at me. She's as pretty as I remember — maybe more, damn her. Green eyes that used to flutter when I kissed her, full lips that whispered confidences in my ear.
Now, her face is frozen in a hostess' smile. Her fingers worry the bottom button of her pink cardigan and the threads begin to loosen. She doesn't know what to do because she wasn't expecting me. I guess it wasn't nice showing up a day early.
"Ryan. You're home."
Home. Does she mean mine or hers?
I had almost forgotten what Lizzie's voice sounded like, but its husky depth brings the memories of the six months we spent loving each other rushing back.
Well, I'd been loving her. She'd been falling in love with my brother.
I wait for my heart to ache, but there's only a small twinge. That's a surprise. In my mind, this was all so much more dramatic and intense. Hard stares and pinched lips. A little social awkwardness seems so mundane by comparison.
And then the door swings open wider and Jude is there. My pulse stops — doesn't slow, just ceases to exist for a second. Leave it to him to bring the fireworks.
Like the house, Jude seems smaller than I remember. Or maybe that's because he has gone expressionless, his discomfort hard-crashing him. His hands dig into his pockets, searching for an anchor, pulling his shoulders into a hunch. It takes a lot to knock Jude off his game. Glad to see I can still have that effect on him.
When he opens his mouth, no sound comes out. It's unusual for me to have to step up and be the better man when I'm around my big brother. But today is that day.
"Long t-time no see."
His lip trembles.
No. This is not how this is supposed to go. Jude doesn't get to be emotional.
"Come here." I gesture with my hands, and that breaks the stalemate.
He steps forward into a back-patting hug and now he's Jude again. Strong. Sure. Bigger than life. God, I missed him.
When he leans back, he's all business — all older brother. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming in early?"
"I Ubered from the airport. More dramatic this wway."
Lizzie's glance darts back and forth between us, like she doesn't know where she should rest her eyes.
Jude moves aside. "Stop standing there like an idiot and come in."
I notice the red glass vase in the living room and the photos on the wall — dashes of color and life that weren't there before. Lizzie's influence on this house, and on Jude, is obvious. He called before I left Japan to warn me that she was moving in. His tone managed to be apologetic, pleading, and defiant all at once.
He grabs my duffel bag. "I kept your bedroom as is. Let me put your stuff in there and I'll throw a load in the wash."
"In other words, you don't want me c-cluttering up the house." Some things never change; Jude doesn't like anything out of place.
The second Jude leaves the room, the awkwardness returns. Lizzie and I stand there staring at each other as she tugs on a lock of her hair.
"Kind of feels like a f-funeral," I say.
She stops tugging and smiles, bringing a piece of sunshine to this moment. "Sorry. You're right. It's good to see you."
"You too. How are things g-going?"
She shakes her head. "This is so weird."
"It doesn't need to be. I wouldn't have g-given the two of you my blessing if I was going to hate you ffor it later."
"I know you wouldn't have."
"Are you happy?"
I don't need to ask if Jude's happy. His texts and phone calls over the past year made that clear. He's found someone new to orbit around. I'm not going to pretend that doesn't sting, but it's as it should be. He and I spent too many years with only each other.
She bites her thumbnail, a nervous habit she doesn't indulge in often. I hate that I know that about her.
"I tried to talk him out of living together."
"C-come on now, Lizzie. You couldn't have t-tried all that hard."
Her head rears back and she looks me up and down, like she's seeing me for the first time. "What a difference a year makes."
"This w-wasn't just any year." The upshot of disengaging yourself from everyone and everything is that you get to reinvent yourself. "I've m-made some changes."
"Good for you. I'd love to hear about Japan."
"Me too," Jude says, coming back in the room. I hear the washing machine running in the background. "And maybe tomorrow we can have some of the guys over for a barbecue."
"I'm looking at apartments tomorrow."
"You just got home. Plus, I was going to help you with that."
"Jude ..." Lizzie starts, but then decides against it.
Smart. The less she gets involved, the better.
"I don't need you f-finding me a place." If my tone is biting, I have a right to it.
When I pulled my head out of my ass last year and discovered Jude was in love with Lizzie, I decided to put him first like he'd done for me so many times throughout our lives. But just because I encouraged their relationship and left to give everyone breathing room doesn't mean I'm a martyr. Now that I'm back, he doesn't get to take the reins and run my life again.
Jude crosses his arms. "I'm trying to help."
My face heats. I know he means well. I also know he's defensive as hell because he feels guilty about forcing me out of our home. But let's face it, I was going to have to leave sometime.
"I've been on my own for a y-year. I got this."
Jude's never been one to back down easily. "What about money? You don't have a job and school starts in two weeks."
I'm headed back to San Jose State this fall to start my teaching-credential program.
"They want me to come back to the café. I'll be ffine."
"And tuition?" He's tapping one hand on his leg.
"I took out loans."
"I didn't want you to do that." Jude goes full cartoon villain when he gets upset — clenched jaw, steely eyes, the whole bit.
"Yeah, well I did. So g-get used to it."
"How about I make dinner?" Lizzie asks, breaking the tension.
I change my shirt and get cleaned up, calming myself in the process. That works until I step foot in the kitchen. When my Mom died, Jude and I moved into this house with my Uncle Rob. Five years later, he died in a car crash and left the house to Jude. Now, the dark wood table where Jude, Rob, and I used to eat is gone, replaced by a sleek modern one that will probably fall apart in a couple years. Because my mother helped my uncle decorate this room, it was the only space in the house that had remnants of her. Most of those have been removed. At least the faded duck curtains she picked out are still hanging.
What did I expect? That Lizzie and Jude would become a couple but everything else around them would stay in stasis? But there's a wide gulf between knowing something and having it hit you in the gut.
Jude and I sit and catch up on the basics as Lizzie cooks. He tries not to gaze at her too often, or for too long. As he talks, he explains any references I might not understand and makes sure to bring up topics that will keep me in the conversation. When I tell him about my year teaching in Japan, he asks the right questions in all the correct places. So thoughtful, so careful. So not Jude.
As much as I love my brother — as much as I owe him for raising me after Mom died — it's true what they say: You can never go home again.
Time to plant new roots.
I hate procrastination — until it's time to find new renters for my studio. Then I'm a faithful convert. There are a lot of people in need of housing in the Bay Area, so this task shouldn't be brain surgery. But a lot of those people are also bonkers and interviewing them all is a time suck.
I would rely on recommendations from friends, but those are in short supply for me these days. It's hard to maintain friendships when you're devoted to a steady income, stolen naps, and raising a six-year-old by yourself.
Thankfully my last renter, Jeff, came to the rescue and emailed me a referral. He probably felt guilty for running out in the dark of night before his lease was up. He shouldn't have; he left a note and a sizeable check for the rest of his rent. Plus, he was chasing after the woman he loved and who's not going to forgive that?
A quick glance behind me confirms that Diego is sitting in the center of a sea of colored blocks, where — a minute ago — there was nothing but bare floor.
"Baby, put away your Legos."
"I'm making a tree." He's hunched over his masterpiece, dark hair hanging over his darker eyes.
"We have a visitor coming any minute now. You can play after he leaves."
This finally gets his attention and he peers up at me. Every time his eyes meet mine, I'm reminded of Marco. Diego is his twin in so many beautiful and uncomfortable ways.
"Is the new person going to sleep in my room?"
I crouch down. "You know they're going to live in the studio behind the house."
"But you said you might make that a play room or a place for your computer."
I need to pay a tutor for Diego more than I need an office, so renting it is. "Won't it be fun having someone new here?"
Diego's frown exaggerates the size of his cheeks. "Probably not."
I try not to laugh and fail. He's not just his father's kid; the pessimism is all me.
"Let's give it a shot anyway."
I have high hopes that this next guy, Ryan, is a keeper. I'd prefer a female renter, but he sounded nice on the phone and I doubt Jeff would steer me wrong.
When I answer the knock at the door, I'm surprised by what's on the other side. I assumed Ryan would be buttoned-up and formal like Jeff. Instead, he's wearing a Henley and jeans and looks like he hangs out in coffee houses having long intellectual chats to talk women into bed.
Not that he'd have to do that much talking. His lanky frame almost hits the top of my doorway and his self-deprecating smile says, "I will throw rose petals at your feet and call you princess."
"Eva?" he asks through the screen door.
"Yeah. Thanks for m-meeting with me."
The screen still sits between us. "So, you go to San Jose State?"
"I'm getting my teaching c-credential."
"You stutter," Diego says, pushing his way in front of me.
"Yes, I d-do."
Diego opens the screen before I can stop him. "I can't read good."
"You c-can't read well," Ryan corrects him.
That should bug me, but his voice is kind and he probably can't help himself given he's studying to be a teacher.
"The room's this way." Diego points to the backyard, his authoritative voice at odds with his small body.
Now he decides to be outgoing.
I trail behind the two of them as they cross through the living room to the sliding glass door, Diego telling Ryan his vital details — age, grade, and how he helped paint the studio himself.
We cross the uneven brick patio and Ryan steps around the rather sad little patch of garden. "Your lavender smells n-nice."
I'm pleased he noticed, but I don't say anything.
I force open the studio door, which sticks a bit. The room isn't huge, but it's big enough for all the necessary furniture — none of which I'm providing. There's also a kitchenette and a small loft bedroom, which is fun the first couple times you climb the ladder to get to it. After that, it's a pain in the ass.
Ryan walks through, assessing the space. "That's a d-decent size," he says when he ducks into the attached bathroom. "And the r-rest of it's nice, too."
He pushes the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows. His arms are long and lean, and I get distracted by them.
"It was supposed to be a play room." Diego aims that statement at the floor as he shifts from foot to foot.
"You don't need another place to play." The subtext of my mom voice is, "We'll talk about this later."
Ryan watches our power struggle and then leans down toward Diego. "Anything else you w-want to show me?"
Diego stops mid-pout to think, Ryan's diversion working its magic.
"There's a secret door over here."
Diego drags Ryan to the closet, which sparks a discussion about all the items that could fit inside. Umbrellas, rain boots, board games, bowling balls, shark tanks — the list gets sillier as they go.
Ryan doesn't humor Diego, like so many adults do. He is an eager participant, his mind obviously creative enough to navigate the twists and turns of Diego's thinking process. Not for the first time in the past few minutes, attraction tingles at the base of my neck. I want to look at Ryan longer, listen to him more closely. I take a step toward him without conscious thought.
I won't make a rental decision with my hormones, though. My son might be ready to hand the keys over to this guy, but I still have a lot of questions.
"Diego, I need to talk to Ryan for a minute. Can you go play in the house for a while?"
"I guess." His lips open, revealing a missing tooth.
"Nice to meet you, D-Diego," Ryan says with a wave.
Now that he and I are alone, the conversation sputters. Ryan looks out the window at the garden. It takes considerable work to grow the few lousy tomatoes and green beans we get out of it, but it's something Diego and I do together. I like the idea of him digging his hands into the dirt, the way his grandparents did.
"I like the s-studio. When is it available?"
"Can you tell me more about what you do for a living?"
"I go to school at n-night and work at Roy's during the day."
Which means he's barely clearing minimum wage, most likely. "They have good coffee."
"And I could walk to w-work from here."
The toe of my copper sandal digs into the rug. "Most of my renters work in tech."
He understands what I'm insinuating and the room gets chilly.
"I'm happy to f-fill out an application with my employment information."
"Okay. I'm probably going to list this place, just in case."
His face falls. "Can you review my application bbefore you do that?" It's so tempting to give in to the tug I'm feeling in my gut, but I've been down this road before with renters. It's tough making it in the valley on a shoestring coffeehouse salary.
I shrug. "I'll think about it."
He takes a step toward me. I've towered over other women — and sometimes men — for most of my life. Even Ryan, who looks to be six feet, only has a couple inches on me. But for some reason, when he comes closer, I get the urge to move back.
I stay put.
"What if I give you a b-bigger deposit?"
He opens his mouth wide, like he's cracking his jaw. I used to have a friend in middle school who stuttered, and she'd do that when she was trying to relax her speech. Now I feel like a bully.
"Let me consider it." Which sounds more like a dismissal than I mean it to be.
He blows out a breath. "Okay."
I uncross my arms, which somehow snuck into that position. "Look, I'll give you an application and then we can talk about it. I'm trying to be smart about this." That last part was supposed to be an internal thought.
I better steer him toward the door because I'm sure he's about to get angry. Men tend to get upset when it's a woman playing offense.
Instead, he cocks his head and stares at me. "Why w-would you assume it's unwise to rent to me?"
That's a good question. I'm being pretty rude about his job. Still, I've been burned by renters who couldn't pay before and I'm not going to throw my common sense out the window just because Ryan looks delicious in those jeans.
"You remind me of m-my brother," he says, when it's clear I'm not going to answer him.
"Why is that?"
"S-strong silent type. I can give you a copy of my b-background check if that's an issue."
"No, fill out the application and we'll go from there."
He must not believe me, because he looks like someone just told him his dog had to be put down.
"Thanks for your t-time."
Ryan says his goodbyes to Diego on the way out, taking a minute to examine the finished Lego tree. I can tell Diego likes Ryan by the way he lets him crouch down right next to him. He doesn't trust a whole lot of people. Of course, neither does his mother.
I bury that thought and see Ryan to the door.
I hear giggling when I walk in, followed by the distinctive sound of kissing. I turn my head, but not soon enough to avoid witnessing Jude make out with Lizzie on the couch. A perfect finish to a shitty day. When they hear the door slam, they launch apart from one another.
"Hey. Dinner is almost ready," Jude says.
"Cool." I disappear into my room to avoid the tension.
It sucks getting a taste of your own medicine. Without knowing it, Jude and I fell for Lizzie at the same time — a twisted coincidence. It wasn't an accident, though, that I convinced her to choose me, or that I kept dating her even though I knew Jude cared about her. I didn't know how much or how deeply. But I knew he felt something.
Excerpted from "Tell Me That You're Mine"
Copyright © 2017 Victoria De La O.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Ryan,
Chapter 2: Eva,
Chapter 3: Ryan,
Chapter 4: Eva,
Chapter 5: Ryan,
Chapter 6: Eva,
Chapter 7: Ryan,
Chapter 8: Eva,
Chapter 9: Ryan,
Chapter 10: Eva,
Chapter 11: Ryan,
Chapter 12: Eva,
Chapter 13: Ryan,
Chapter 14: Eva,
Chapter 15: Ryan,
Chapter 16: Eva,
Chapter 17: Ryan,
Chapter 18: Eva,
Chapter 19: Ryan,
Chapter 20: Eva,
Chapter 21: Ryan,
Chapter 22: Eva,
Chapter 23: Ryan,
Chapter 24: Eva,
Chapter 25: Ryan,
Chapter 26: Eva,
Chapter 27: Ryan,
About the Author,
Also by Victoria De La O,