Page 22 of Arrogant Devil

“It really is breathtaking!” Christine continues, reaching out to touch his arm.

That’s one of the things Hill Top has over us: location. From their large back patio, guests can look out over a deep valley where all the grapes are grown. The view extends for miles, and it’s the reason their sunset tastings sell out months ahead of time.

Vince motions to the patio. “I actually keep one of the best tables in the house reserved out there. I’d be happy to offer it up to you guys for the night.”

It’s tempting, but I don’t think I’ll last through the sunset. My plan was to take the tour, speed through the tasting, and then find a place to eat with Christine on the way back to the ranch, preferably somewhere with a drive-through.

“I appreciate the offer, but—”

“Yes! Please, that would be great.” Christine cuts me off. “But you must join us!”

Vince chuckles and glances over to see what I want to do. I swallow a sigh. “Sure, yeah. Sounds great.”

For the next hour, the three of us sit outside while the Texas sun paints the sky pink and orange as it disappears behind the horizon. Christine does most of the talking. Vince tries to keep up, and I mostly stay quiet, sipping my wine, ignoring the loud grumbles coming from my stomach, and trying to figure out why I’m not having a better time.

It’s not the people I’m with. Vince is a great guy—we’d be better friends if I had the time for it—and Christine is always good company. They aren’t the problem. No, I feel uneasy, like I’m sitting here missing out on something.

Yeah, something like a double cheeseburger with bacon.

As soon as Vince excuses himself to get back to work, I sigh with relief and start to stand.

“Christine, you about ready to go?”

She jerks her gaze to me, and I get stabbed by a million tiny daggers. Oof. She’s pissed.

“We haven’t even been here an hour!”

“I’m starving.”

“Then eat some nuts.” She shoves the nearly empty bowl toward me. “Jesus, do you even know how to relax? You’ve been sitting over there jiggling your leg under the table for the last hour.”

I frown. “I can relax.”

“Prove it.”

“I will—at home. I’m hungry and ready to go.”

She bites back a response, grabs for her purse, and storms off ahead of me. I have no clue what I’ve done to piss her off, and truthfully, I can’t muster the energy to care. I’m working on an empty stomach here. I just hope she’s not so mad that she’ll object to stopping for fast food on the way home.

Tense silence fills the truck as we start the drive. She’s sitting over on the passenger side as far away from me as she can get, arms crossed and attention laser-focused out the window. I ask her if she likes this radio station, but she doesn’t respond. I ask her if she’s hungry, and she shifts more of her back to me. If we weren’t currently flying down the highway, I think she’d open the door and fling herself out.

Okay then.

Silence it is.

We drive another thirty minutes like that, and while I don’t mind the quiet, I have enough sense not to pull into any of the restaurants we pass. The only thing worse than being inattentive to her needs would be attending to mine—and I don’t really want a milkshake dumped over my head.

When we finally make it back to the farmhouse, I park my truck and turn to her, prepared to say whatever it is she needs me to say so we can continue on with our night.

“Listen, I know I haven’t been the perfect boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend?!” she snaps, throwing her hands in the air and finally turning in my direction. “We’re hardly acquaintances at this point, Jack!”

“You don’t mean that.”

Her eyes turn into angry slits, and I realize she’s way more worked up than I thought she was. On a scale of one to ten, she’s a twenty-five, and I’m hovering somewhere near a two.

“It doesn’t matter what I mean. You’ve been checked out of this relationship from the very beginning, and I’ve been too in love with you to do anything about it!”

My stomach tightens at the L word.

Her face crumbles. “Do you know what it feels like to want someone who can’t even make time for you?”

Shit. Now I feel bad. “I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you.”

“Yeah?” she prods. “How are you going to do that? Say you love me? Move to San Antonio? Buy me a ring?”

Sure…those are some really good options, but I know I won’t do any of them. I’m sitting here with a woman I’ve been involved with for two years. She’s crying and shouting and there’s still 40% of me that’s focused on getting some dinner. What the hell is wrong with me? She’s called me emotionless before, and maybe it’s true. Maybe I’m made of stone. Maybe when I lost my parents when I was younger, something inside me shriveled up and died.

My silence is louder than any response she’s waiting to hear.

She huffs out an angry sigh and turns to stare out the front windshield.

“I drove three hours in Friday after-work traffic to see you, and you dragged me to a winery.” I open my mouth to defend my actions, but she doesn’t give me the chance. “You realize the last four times I’ve come up here, we’ve done the exact same thing? You aren’t taking me on dates—you’re dragging me around wine country on research trips.”

That’s not entirely true.

“What about a few months back when we went out to Fredericksburg? I took you to that little bed and breakfast.”

“Conveniently connected to a vineyard.”

Is that what that was?

“To make matters worse,” she continues, “I sat there tonight, openly flirting with Vince, trying to work up some fire in you, and in the end, I got nothin’. Nada. Squat.”

I shrug. That was a waste of her time. “I’m not the jealous type.”

She laughs acerbically and shakes her head. “Of course you aren’t. To get jealous, you have to actually value something. You have to be scared of someone else having what you want. You’re not scared of losing me.”

“C’mon, that’s not true. I know I’d be a damn fool if I let you go.”

“Be that as it may,” she says, her gaze falling to her lap, “you know you’re doing it anyway. You’re just too comfortable to break things off with me for good.”

“You’re a catch, Christine.”

She pinches her eyes closed. “You say that like you’re a robot.”

Do I sound cold? I don’t mean to. I don’t know how else to be, how else to sound. I don’t know what to say or how to act. I’m walking a tightrope here. I don’t want to lie to her and feed her more bullshit just to keep her, but I also don’t want her to leave this truck thinking less of herself. Objectively, she is a catch. I am a fool if I let her go.

“You’re a great guy, Jack, but it’s time for me to move on.”

“So you’re breaking up with me? Just like that?”

She turns and offers me a wistful smile. There are tears in her eyes, and I reach out to take her hand and squeeze it once before she pulls it away.

“Tell Edith bye for me.”

“You don’t want to tell her yourself?”

She shakes her head and pushes open her door to hop out of the truck. “Nah. She never did like me. Honestly, I’d rather just head home.”

“Why don’t you stay the night? I don’t want you driving in the dark. You can stay in a guest room or have my bed if you prefer it. I can sleep on the couch.”

She declines and we take our time getting out of the truck.

She buries her face in her hands. “God, this is the weirdest breakup ever. We’re supposed to be shouting at one another.”

I frown. “I’ve never shouted at you.”

“I know.” She drops her hands and levels a steady gaze at me. “That’s exactly why we’re breaking up.”

No amount of urging can get Christine to stay the night, but she promises to text me when she gets home to let me know she got there safely. I watch her drive off, turn for the house, and promptly decide to get back in my truck. I don’t want to go in there and face Edith. Besides, there are practical considerations at play: I’m still very hungry.