“When the coffee’s done, bring a mug up to my office, will you?”
She quirks a brow. “Is that part of my job description? Waiting on you hand and foot?”
“It’s a cup of coffee, not a seven-course meal.”
“Okay…” She hesitates, her gaze turning toward the coffee pot like it’s her salvation. “Am I allowed to get some for myself?”
The question, delivered in a gentle tone, catches me so off guard that I turn to look at her, really look at her. Obviously, I’m aware she’s beautiful—that’s the minimum working requirement for trophy wives—but even with her dark hair twisted up in a bun and a fresh face, she’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. I ignore the thought and focus on the fact that today she’s wearing another one of my Blue Stone t-shirts. It’s tied just like the one yesterday so it doesn’t completely drown her. She’s wearing her same pair of jeans, but they’re stained now, and there’s a hole just above the left knee. I don’t think she’d be wearing them again if she had any other clothes. The thought is unsettling.
“Stop sizing me up like that,” she accuses suddenly.
My gaze jerks up to her face. “Are you kidding me? I wasn’t sizing you up.”
She props her hands on her hips. “Oh yeah? What were you doing then?”
Her ice blue eyes dare me to tell the truth.
“I was feeling sorry for you.”
I should’ve known my reply wouldn’t go over well. Her hands ball into tiny little fists. Her lips tug into a thin, angry line.
“Why? I don’t want the coffee that badly.”
I wave my hand, gesturing to her appearance. “No, because you’re obviously a very unstable person.”
“You pack up and leave your life behind, and you don’t even bring a change of clothes. You’re either crazy, or you didn’t think you’d be gone this long,” I point out with a flat, disinterested tone.
“Oh, braaaavo, Dr. Phil,” she shoots back, temper flaring. “Excellent psychoanalysis. Don’t you have your own business to mind? Like, literally?”
Jesus Christ. This woman is going to be the death of me.
I tug a hand through my hair and make a move to step around her. “Just bring the coffee when it’s done.”
“Fine,” she snaps.
“And go to the grocery store. We’re out of damn food.”
I stomp up the stairs.
“Sure thing, boss!” she shouts after me.
“And cook something for lunch!”
“I’ll know if you spit in it!”
At that, I slam my office door closed.
I’m fuming and pissed, more so with myself than with her. I had every intention of keeping my cool, but she pushed me, just like she has since she first arrived. I’ve never in my life talked to a woman the way I talk to her. I should march right back downstairs and fire her on the spot.
I stay seated, seething.
A few minutes later, there’s a soft knock and then Meredith opens my office door. My blood spikes with adrenaline as if we’re about to pick up right where we left off. My hands grip the edges of my desk. Her gaze hits mine, and I’m surprised to see that it’s softer than it was down in the kitchen. Her lips are trained into a small, absent smile.
In her hand is a steaming cup of coffee—the coffee I’d completely forgotten about.
I watch her as she carries it carefully toward my desk, where I’m currently on the phone with the general manager over at Blue Stone Farm. He’s talking my ear off about a few improvements he wants to make at the restaurant. I motion for Meredith to set the coffee down by the phone, and she listens. Then she reaches over and gently sticks a note onto my computer monitor.
In girly, scrolling script she wrote: I didn’t mean to snap at you. You’re right, I am a little crazy.
That’s it. No apology, just a joke.
Still, it’s something. Without waiting for a reply, she turns, and I watch her saunter out of the room, dragging my gaze from the strands of dark hair that have fallen from her bun to the curve of her ass in the only pair of jeans she owns. My stomach tightens and my heart pounds. A heat creeps up my neck.
When she’s gone, I stare at her note, trying to refocus my attention on the phone call. In reality, I’m only half listening, too damn focused on the princess.
Jack has shown his face once all morning, and it was so he could come down to make another pot of coffee. When I heard him walking down the stairs, I made sure to look extra busy. I was already vacuuming, but I vacuumed harder, heaving the thing back and forth as fast as I could. I looked like I was racing against an imaginary clock. He completely ignored me.
When he walked back by with his new cup of coffee, I’d moved on to the hallway. He had to walk right by me to get to the stairs and I held my breath, quietly praying he would trip on the vacuum cord. His spilled coffee would be my mess to clean, but I’d do it with a half-hidden grin.
Sadly, he stepped purposefully over the cord without acknowledging me then trotted right back up the stairs.
His quiet indifference is a silent weapon I can’t fend off. I’m jumpy and on edge, listening for every little sound and jerking my attention to the stairs each time I think I hear him walking down them.
He hasn’t made another appearance, but that hasn’t stopped him from hanging around in my thoughts. I can’t get the image of him from this morning out of my head. When I walked into his office, he was sitting behind his desk, phone pressed to his ear, gaze straight on me. His hatred plumed off him like smoke. He had a sharp stare and cool confidence, and I took one good look at him then nearly spilled his coffee all over the floor.
It’s bad enough that I don’t like his personality, but his appearance isn’t exactly helping matters. I really want to find him unattractive, but I don’t. He might be rougher around the edges than the men back in California, but with his chiseled jaw and piercing gaze, it’s impossible to call him anything less than handsome. I try to tell myself his hair needs a trim and he’s too sun-kissed. He could use a shave—his face would feel all scratchy. Wait, what? Pull it together Meredith. There will be no feeling his face.
I’m not a fool. If his personality weren’t so unyielding, I have no doubt there’d be a different woman warming his sheets every night. Even so, I bet he isn’t lacking for female attention. I shiver at the thought of having to wash sweaty sheets or empty condoms from his trashcan.
Ugh! Okay, enough, brain. You’ve had your fun.
I snip that line of thinking and decide it’s time for me to get out of this house. I think Jack’s proximity is tainting my thoughts. Some fresh air will do me some good.
It’s time for a grocery store run.
I jot down a list of everything I want to make for meals then survey the pantry and fridge. Edith and Jack have enough barbecue sauce and baked beans to last them well into an apocalypse. Veggies and fruits are nowhere to be found, unless you count the dusty jars of pickled okra labeled Edith - July 2002. Yum. That will change once I make it back with the groceries. I grab the envelope with the grocery money from the counter then find Edith out on the porch throwing the ball for Alfred. Fortunately, the activity seems to be holding his attention so well that he doesn’t care to acknowledge me. Still, I aim to make my time near him as brief as possible.
“Hey Edith, is there a car I can borrow to drive to the grocery store?”
She turns and holds up her hand to shield the sun from her eyes. “Yeah, go ask one of the hands, they’ll set you up with a truck.”
I turn toward the barn and spot a half-dozen ranch hands at work. There are varying shades of cowboy hats and an ample amount of denim. I can smell the testosterone from way over here.
“Umm…is there one in particular I should aim for?” Perhaps the weakest one in the herd?
“Don’t think it’ll matter really. I’m sure they’ll all be dying to help you as soon as you make your way over there.”
She’s right, of course. After I skirt around the house as stealthily as possible to avoid Alfred’s interest, I don’t even make it halfway to the barn before the first cowboy catches up with me. He falls in line right beside me and holds out his hand. “Hey there, name’s Chris.”